September is National Suicide Prevention Month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that, in 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-14 and 25-34. It is estimated that 12.2 million Americans seriously considered suicide, 3.2 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.2 million attempted suicide in 2020.
Believe it or not, all of us can have an impact on reducing these numbers. Today’s article will explain the warning signs and how you can help someone who might be struggling.
Suicide Warning Signs
Some warning signs may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, like 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 the 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
- Extreme mood swings
How Can You Help Them?
It is very scary when a friend or loved one is thinking about suicide. It’s hard to know what to say or how to act. Here is how you can help:
Contact a Lifeline Center
Never keep it a secret if a friend tells you about a plan to hurt themselves. Contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline if you are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support (or if you ever are experiencing mental health-related distress). 988 is confidential, free, and available 24/7/365. Calls are routed to the Lifeline center closest to your area code that can provide you with local resources.
- Call or text 988
- Chat at 988lifeline.org
Do’s and Don’ts
Talking with and finding help for someone that may be suicidal can be difficult. You may worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. Here are some tips from 988 that may help:
- Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide. You will not increase the chances they attempt suicide by talking about it.
- Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept their feelings.
- Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
- Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
- Don’t dare him or her to do it.
- Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
- Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
- Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
- Take action. Remove means, like weapons or pills.
- Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
Be Aware Of Suicidal Feelings
People having a crisis sometimes perceive their dilemma as inescapable and feel an utter loss of control. Call 988 if you or a friend are feeling in any of the following ways:
- Can’t stop the pain
- Can’t think clearly
- Can’t make decisions
- Can’t see any way out
- Can’t sleep, eat or work
- Can’t get out of depression
- Can’t make the sadness go away
- Can’t see a future without pain
- Can’t see themselves as worthwhile
- Can’t get someone’s attention
- Can’t seem to get control
5 Action Steps for Communicating with Someone Who is Suicidal
Research into the field of suicide prevention has suggested that taking the following 5 action steps can help prevent suicide:
- Ask. Asking the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” communicates that you’re open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way. Practice active listening. (If you don’t know what that means, please read our previous blog about Active Listening.) Make sure you take their answers seriously and don’t ignore them. As they talk, listen to their reasons for being in such emotional pain, as well as for any potential reasons they want to continue to stay alive. Help them focus on their reasons for living and avoid trying to impose your reasons for them to stay alive.
- Be There. Offer support. This could mean being physically present for someone, speaking with them on the phone when you can, or any other way of showing care for the person at risk. Increasing someone’s connectedness to others and limiting their isolation (both in the short and long-term) has shown to be a protective factor against suicide. Many individuals with suicidal thoughts suffer from a low sense of belonging, so by being there, you are alleviating that risk factor.
- Keep Them Safe. It’s important to find out a few things to establish immediate safety. Have they already done anything to try to kill themselves before talking with you? Does the person experiencing thoughts of suicide know how they would kill themselves? Do they have a specific, detailed plan? What’s the timing for their plan? What sort of access do they have to their planned method? Knowing the answers to each of these questions can tell you a lot about the imminence and severity of danger the person is in. Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal means is a very important part of suicide prevention. The Keep Them Safe step is really about showing support for someone during the times when they have thoughts of suicide by putting time and distance between the person and their chosen method.
- Help Them Connect. Helping someone with thoughts of suicide connect with ongoing supports (like the 988 Lifeline or resources in your community) can help them establish a safety net for those moments they find themselves in a crisis. Explore some of these possible supports with them and help them make a support plan.
- Follow Up. After your initial contact with a person experiencing thoughts of suicide, and after you’ve connected them with the immediate support systems they need, make sure to follow-up with them to see how they’re doing. Leave a message, send a text, or give them a call. There is evidence that even a simple form of reaching out, like sending a card, can potentially reduce their risk for suicide.
The mental health of yourself or a loved one can never be taken too seriously. Whether the weight of a long-term struggle or a crisis weighs you down, allow friends, family or a mental health professional to lighten the burden by finding support. There is no shame in seeking help.