How to recognize warning signs of suicide

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Depression and suicidal thoughts are fairly common

SAN DIEGO — The warning signs of suicide typically crop up in multiples, making it crucial that people know what to look for, the county of San Diego’s behavioral health services director said Tuesday.

“Most people who are depressed do not kill themselves — however, untreated, depression could increase the risk of suicide,” said Alfredo Aguirre of the county Health and Human Services Agency, who spoke about suicide in the wake of learning that Oscar-winner Robin Williams hanged himself in his Marin County home Monday.

“Research has shown that the majority of people who die by suicide were clinically depressed or suffered from another diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder,” he said.

Williams, 63, sought professional help for depression. In July, he went to Minnesota-based Hazelden treatment center to address issued related to his long-term sobriety. He reportedly had not been using drugs or alcohol, and had been open about his struggles cocaine and booze.

In San Diego County, 441 people killed themselves last year, the highest total on record. Suicides made up 15 percent of all deaths investigated by the county Medical Examiner’s Office.

Aguirre said risk factors for suicide often occur in combination with others, and knowing the warning signs can make a difference between life and death.

Most people who attempt or die by suicide showed one or more warning signs before the  attempt, he said.

According to the HHSA, some warning signs of suicide include:

  • talking of hurting or killing oneself;
  • divorce, separation or other family stress;
  • poor health;
  • loss of a job, home or personal security;
  • increased alcohol or drug use;
  • isolation from family and friends; and
  • daring or risk-taking behavior.

Aguirre said people consider suicide when they are hopeless or feel powerless.

“Recognizing the warning signs of suicide is key to preventing someone from ending their life,” he said. “Suicide can be prevented. It’s important to know the warning signs, how to assist a suicidal person and to know that help is available.”

The county start the “It’s Up to Us” campaign in 2010 to prevent suicide by raising awareness about warning signs.

The county offers suicide prevention training at no cost. The “Question, Persuade and Refer” training is equivalent to a CPR course to teach people how to recognize the suicide warning signs.

More information about suicide, risk factors, warning signs, how to get help, resources and training is available at the “It’s Up to Us” website at, or by phone at the county’s Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724- 7240.


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