Sucidal Ideation in Athletes; Do’s and Don’ts for Health Care Professionals

The average age range for athletes whom Athletic Trainers work with are between 15-24 years. This age group is at a high-risk level for suicide (Milliner & Smith, 1994)  There are many common signs and symptoms health care professionals should be aware of to properly refer athletes who are at risk of harming themselves.  

 

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Risk Factors for Suicide:

  • Stressful Psychosocial Life Events (season ending injury)
  • Chronic Mental Illness (depression, bipolar disorder, etc)
  • Personality Traits Consistent with Maladjustment (poor coping mechanisms)
  • Family History of Suicidal Ideation

It is important for health care professionals to be aware of these risk factors when working with an injured athlete.  The following are some Do’s and Don’ts regarding suicide:

Do’s:

  • Take signs and symptoms of suicide seriously
  • Always stay calm if a crisis arises
  • Be a good listener.  A short venting session during rehabilitation gives a lot of insight on thoughts, feelings, and emotional stability; giving more support if a referral is needed
  • Empathize with pain the individual is feeling
  • Ask direct questions i.e. Do you intend to harm yourself today? Do you have the means to harm yourself?
  • Identify the stressors in the individuals life and provide coping mechanisms or support to help get through the stress
  • Ask about their support system; friends, family, coaches etc.
  • If at any moment there is suspicion that the individual will carry out their plan before intervention, contact emergency services by calling 911.
  • If the crisis is not emergent, the Twin Cities area has a 24 hour crisis hotline that will talk to the individual through issues:
  • 612-379-6363/1-866-379-6363
  • There is also a National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
  • 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Don’ts:

  • Do not assume the individual will not follow through with a suicidal plan
  • Stay calm; do not debate or argue with the individual
  • Do not minimize their feelings 
  • Do not assume that if they attempt once they won’t attempt again
  • Don’t be afraid to ask (use the bullet point statements regarding ideation)
  • Don’t try to handle the issue alone.  Seek support from other health care professionals such as doctors, sport psychologists, and administrators

It is always better to play on the side of caution when dealing with a possible suicide case.  Refer to a sport psychologist or mental health institution when risk factors are identified. Be sure to stay in contact with the individual, providing support, and letting them know they are cared for.  

 

Sources:

Milliner, E.K., Smith, A.M. Injured Athletes and the Risk of Suicide. Journal of Athletic Training. December 1994; 29(4) 337-341.

Do’s and Don’ts were discussed with Dr. Carly Anderson and Dr. Justin Anderson; Sport Psychologists at the University of Minnesota

http://www.premiersportpsychology.com/

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