What To Do If Someone You Know Is Suicidal
Although suicide is a major public health problem, it’s highly preventable, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). First, realize that someone expressing their suicidal ideation is positive because it’s an opportunity to help. Next, understand that talking about suicide won’t push someone to commit suicide. We all have a role in suicide prevention, and it’s essential to take any intention of suicide seriously.
You might not be able to resolve your loved one’s crisis on your own—but it’s possible to support your loved one and help them find the mental health care they deserve. Here’s how to recognize the warning signs, reach out, and show your support.
What are the warning signs of suicide risk?
According to the American Foundation of Suicide Risk, the warning signs of suicide risk often include a combination of mental health, mood, and behavior changes. Some signs your loved one might be experiencing suicidal thoughts include:
- Talking about wanting to die, wanting to sleep forever, or being a burden to others
- Increased substance use (i.e., alcohol or drug use)
- Changes in sleeping patterns, such as sleeping too much or too little
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or loneliness
- Engaging in dangerous behaviors, such as unsafe sex or reckless driving
- Withdrawing from friends, family members, and social activities
- Looking for ways to end their own life, such as buying a gun
Suicide does not have one single cause. In many cases, stressful life events, such as a relationship breakup, a traumatic experience, a chronic illness, or homelessness contribute to suicidal ideation.
In addition, mental health conditions like substance abuse, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can increase suicide risk, especially in the absence of appropriate mental health treatment.
How can you help someone in crisis?
It can feel scary when a family member, coworker, or loved one is struggling emotionally, but it’s essential to reach out. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem—and starting the conversation can make all the difference in getting them the support they need.
- Ask how they’re feeling. Social connection can make all the difference for someone experiencing suicidal ideation. Start by reaching out—and don’t be afraid to ask about suicide. It might feel uncomfortable, but starting the conversation is the best way to combat stigma, keep your loved one safe, and determine what steps to take.
- Assess their risk of suicide. Keep the conversation going to determine whether your loved one is at risk of a suicide attempt. Ask them how serious their suicidal thoughts are, whether they have a planned method of suicide and whether they have urges to attempt suicide. If you’re unsure where to start, the Columbia Protocol contains six questions to assess suicide risk.
- Contact a local crisis center. If your loved one has a plan in place, they’re at immediate risk. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to find out what resources are available in your area, or visit your local crisis center or emergency department for immediate mental health care.
- Be there when they need you. Even if your loved one isn’t at immediate risk, don’t end the conversation. Instead, offer your emotional support and show that you’re willing to listen. This might mean being physically present, talking via video chat, or helping them create a safety plan.
- Research mental health services. Supporting a loved one with suicidal thoughts is hard work, but you don’t have to do it alone. Psychotherapy interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), can help them develop healthy strategies to cope with future mental health crises. If your loved one is feeling overwhelmed, online therapy groups and mental health providers offer therapy sessions via phone call or video sessions, so they won’t have to worry about the therapist’s office trips.
Reach out for professional help if you need it.
Whether you’re supporting a loved one or struggling with your own challenges, don’t forget to take care of your mental health. Talking about suicide can stir up emotional pain—and that’s completely normal. If you’re having a difficult time, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist, counselor, or psychologist.
To find a good fit, reach out to the Therapy Group of Charlotte. We know that talking about mental health can feel overwhelming, and we’re here to help you every step of the way—from finding the right therapist to navigating the therapeutic process. Our compassionate mental health professionals will help you create a personalized treatment plan, regain your strength, and positively change your mental health.