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Multiple studies have found that domestic violence survivors have higher-than-average rates of suicidal thoughts, with as many as 23 percent of survivors having attempted suicide compared to 3 percent among populations with no prior domestic violence exposure.
It’s not just physical violence that’s linked with an increase in suicide. Verbal and emotional abuse are also connected with higher risk, as well as the duration, frequency and severity of abuse, and the presence of other factors such as PTSD, childhood trauma, depression and substance use.
While domestic violence increases the risk of suicide, survivors may face other factors that further increase their risk: being female, low socioeconomic status, lack of education, unemployment, increasing age, being married and not working outside of the home.
Are You at Risk?
According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, these signs may be red flags that can indicate someone is at high risk of attempting suicide:
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing their use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
If these feelings or actions are new or increasing, or if they are related to a painful event, loss, or change, suicide risk is even higher. LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D., a Florida-based psychologist and licensed clinical social worker with expertise in both domestic violence and suicide, recommends turning to a suicide hotline rather than a domestic violence hotline. “The immediacy stemming from the suicidal thoughts requires people specifically trained in suicide intervention,” she says. Seek help as soon as possible by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with someone who can help. For support from a trained crisis counselor via text, text “GO” to 741-741.
How Can You Help Others?
It’s important to recognize the link between domestic violence and suicide. Some survivors may come forward with information about violence, but they may not mention the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that accompany it. Other survivors may talk about or even attempt suicide, but might not connect their suicidal feelings with domestic violence. Even trained professionals may focus on their area of expertise—either domestic violence or suicide – and overlook the connection between the two.
If a domestic violence survivor is considering suicide, here are some ways you can help:
- Help the survivor connect with support groups and other community resources.
- Encourage the survivor to seek help for domestic violence so they can break the cycle that’s fostering the suicidal thoughts.
- Encourage the survivor to reduce dependency on drugs or alcohol, if these factors are present, since these substances can increase suicidal urges.
- Build a strong social bond with the survivor and help the survivor build solid relationships with others outside of the abusive relationship.
In its #BeThe1To suicide prevention program, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline encourages people to ask questions if they are concerned about suicide. It’s okay to ask someone, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Don’t worry that you will give them ideas or make them more upset. People who are considering suicide often feel relieved that someone is asking and cares about them.
If they are thinking about suicide, ask if there’s anything you can hold onto for them, such as weapons or drugs, to help keep them safe. Be there to listen to them without judgment, and ask them if there is anyone else they would like to talk to. If they want to speak with family members, friends, therapists or religious leaders, help them get connected. And keep in touch—if you know someone is struggling, check in with them regularly to make sure they are okay and show them that you care.
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