September is National Suicide Prevention Month.
Approximately 6 million Americans struggle with suicidal ideation (SAMHSA). In 2019, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death for people in the US (CDC). If you or someone you know struggles with suicidal ideation, you are not alone. Treatment can help. You can access life-saving crisis support 24/7 by contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988.
1. Recognize the Signs
The first step in supporting someone who is suicidal is to recognize the signs. While these signs can vary from person to person, common indicators include:
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness and despair
- Talking/posting about death or suicide
- Giving away belongings or making final arrangements
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Sudden mood swings or extreme changes in behavior
- Increased substance abuse
- Isolating themselves from friends and family
2. Listen Nonjudgmentally
When someone opens up about their suicidal thoughts, it's crucial to listen without judgment. Create a safe, non-threatening environment where they feel comfortable sharing their feelings. Avoid making any dismissive comments or trying to minimize their pain. Let them speak freely and express themselves honestly.
3. Express Empathy
Empathy is a powerful tool in supporting someone who is suicidal. Try to understand their feelings and let them know that you care. Use phrases like:
"I'm here for you."
"I'm so sorry you're feeling this way."
"I can't fully understand what you're going through, but I'm here to support you."
4. Avoid Offering Solutions
When someone we love is hurting, we naturally want to fix it--especially if they are at risk of hurting themselves. Try to resist the urge to provide solutions or advice unless you are a trained mental health professional. Instead, encourage the individual to seek help from a qualified therapist or counselor. Suicidal thoughts often stem from complex underlying issues that require professional expertise to address.
5. Encourage Professional Help
Encourage the person to seek help from a mental health professional immediately. Offer to assist in finding a therapist, making appointments, or providing transportation if needed. Remind them that it's okay to ask for help and that seeking professional assistance is a courageous step toward healing.
6. Remove Immediate Hazards
If the person is in immediate danger, take action to remove any potential means of self-harm, such as drugs, sharp objects, or firearms. If the person is in immediate danger, call 911.
7. Stay Connected
Maintaining regular contact with the person is essential. Keep checking in on them, even when they seem to be doing better. Suicidal thoughts can be recurrent, so ongoing support is vital.
8. Involve Support Networks
Inform close friends and family members about the situation, with the individual's consent. Building a support network around them can provide additional comfort and resources for recovery.
9. Practice Self-Care
Supporting someone who is suicidal can be emotionally draining. It's essential to take care of your own well-being during this challenging time. Seek your support system, speak with a counselor, or join a support group for friends and family of individuals with mental health issues.
Supporting someone who is suicidal requires patience, empathy, and a willingness to connect them with professional help. Remember that you are not a replacement for trained mental health experts, but your presence and understanding can be a lifeline during a difficult time. By being a compassionate and caring friend or family member, you can contribute significantly to their journey toward healing and recovery.