Warning Signs of Suicide: 5 Steps that Could Save a Life

For Eileen Finkenbinder and others touched by suicide, there is unfathomable grief, anger, guilt, and other emotional aftershocks.

“There are some dark days, and there are so many questions,” said Finkenbinder, a Carlisle resident who lost her 15-year-old son Britton to suicide on Oct. 25, 2018.

She is not alone in seeking answers.

More than 47,000 people died by suicide in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), making it the nation’s 10th leading cause of death. Suicide and suicide attempts cost the nation $70 billion annually in medical expenses and work-loss costs, and exact an immeasurable emotional toll on survivors.

Health experts agree there is no single cause for suicide, but there can be warning signs:

  • Talk of suicide, feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, being a burden to others, feeling trapped, or unbearable pain.

  • Actions such as increased drug or alcohol use, withdrawal from activities, isolation from family and friends, giving away prized possessions, and aggression.

  • Displays of depression, anxiety, disinterest, irritability, humiliation, shame, agitation, anger, relief, and sudden improvement.

5 actions that could save a life

The National Institutes of Mental Health recommends five steps that anyone can take if they know someone is in emotional pain.

  1. Ask “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Studies show asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.

  2. Keep them safe by reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places.

  3. Be there and listen. Acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts, studies show.

  4. Connect the individual with crisis professionals like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or by texting 741741.

  5. Stay in touch, especially after a crisis.

Access to mental health resources is paramount

Capital Blue Cross offers a behavioral health toolkit for employer groups, has a mental health and wellness page on its corporate website, and helped bring the Neuroflow app to market. That mobile app helps users improve their mental wellness and better address anxiety, depression, and other mental health needs.

Questions still haunt Eileen Finkenbinder. She leans heavily on her faith and help from supportive friends and family to cope in dark times.

Britton was an honors-caliber student-athlete, a thoughtful kid who loved pets, cars, and racing. His uncanny aptitude for electronics fueled a dream to study electrical engineering in college. There was no grim talk, unusual behavior, jarring mood swings, or other warning signs.

“There are people who cry for help,” Eileen said, recalling an encounter she had with a young girl at the first Britton Finkenbinder Memorial Day Race held to raise money for suicide prevention.

“I could see she had scars from slashing,” Eileen said. “I just talked to her. I said, ‘You’re struggling with something here.’ That’s a cry for help. We can save those people.”