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Suicide Awareness Month: Spotting signs of suicidal thoughts and how to intervene

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in Tennessee across the country. And a simple conversation can save the life of someone who may be struggling.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. And in Tennessee, it's ranked ninth.

During suicide prevention month, mental health organizations are working to make people more aware of signs that someone they know may need support.

Ben Harrington is the CEO of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee. He said that in the past few years, the risk of suicide has grown.

Almost 50,000 people in the U.S. died by suicide in each of the past few years. According to mental health experts, everyone can help prevent suicide. The first steps are to ask someone about their thoughts if they show signs of considering suicide. Then, the most important step is to listen.

"'Are you thinking about harming yourself? Are you going to harm yourself?’ I would ask that question because I would rather put my foot in my mouth than do nothing and then that person does take their life," Harrington said.

In the last few years, there have been more than 1,000 suicide deaths per year in Tennessee. The Knox County medical examiner reported that suicides increased substantially last year.

It's a startling piece of data, Harrington said, that shows something isn't working.

"It tells us a lot and it tells us we need to do better so no one can reach that level of despair, where they think that's the only way out of whatever it is that troubles them," said Harrington.

Most importantly he said that if you see something, say something. Or, better yet, ask the person if they are thinking about harming themselves. One sign someone is at risk is a change in their behavior.

A sudden shift in a person's attitude, mood or perspective can indicate underlying issues. Harrington said that it often shows mental health workers that they need to intervene, and also gives them a chance to understand the issues a person is facing.

"Get them engaged in treatment and then we can prevent the toll of a suicide attempt," Harrington said.

Here's how you can spot some of the signs of suicide in yourself or loved one:

  • Increased alcohol or substance use
  • Withdrawing from family and friends     
  • Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself
  • Feeling hopelessness or like they have no purpose
  • Trouble sleeping and eating
  • Or increased anxious, agitated, or depressed behavior.

WBIR wants to remind you to please take care of yourself. 

We want to make sure that if you or anyone you know may be struggling, there are resources out there.

Anyone can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline anytime at 800-273-8255. They can also reach out to the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee. It is available Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Their phone number is 865-584-9125.

A list of mental health resources is also available here. Any of the phone numbers and links on that page will lead you to people who want to help.