What Should You Do If Someone Is Suicidal?

Suicide is a very real and growing problem in the United States and around the world. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., and firearms are involved in half of all suicide. The rate of suicide is lowest in New York and the highest in Montana. In 2017 alone, there were around 1.4 million suicide attempts around the country.

Many mental health experts and policymakers have spoken out recently during coronavirus shutdowns, citing their worries that suicides could increase with a lack of social connection.

Mental health problems are something many people deal with, and it’s challenging to be a support system for someone who is going through something like this. What can you do, as a loved one of someone who is suicidal?

What are the right types of support you can provide?

First, be aware that if there’s an emergency situation, you should contact 911 immediately. If you are personally contemplating suicide or harming yourself, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Beyond that, the following are things to know about providing support to someone who may be having suicidal thoughts.

What to Do If the Risk Is Imminent

Imminent risk of suicide should be handled differently than seeing potential red flags. As was touched on, if you know someone is attempting suicide right now or that person has in their possession something like a gun or pills, contact 911 right away. Try not to leave them alone if you can, and do your best to remove means they might have to hurt themselves.

The rest of the tips are for serious situations, but not imminent.

Identify Warning Signs

Some of the potential warning signs that a friend or loved one is thinking about suicide include:

  • They may mention suicide, even in a seemingly joking way or saying things like, “I wish I were dead.”
  • Securing the ways that may kill oneself, such as buying a gun
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and other social contact
  • Experiencing significant mood swings, including moving from highs to lows rapidly
  • Having vibes of violence and dying on mind.
  • Seeming hopeless or trapped
  • Increasingly using drugs or alcohol
  • Changing routines
  • Engage in ways that may cause destruction to one’s self.
  • If a person gives away personal stuff, it means he/she is planning
  • Personality changes, such as seeming very agitated or on edge

Ask Questions

Your loved one might not come right out and tell you they’re having suicidal thoughts, but you may notice signs that worry you.

If so, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes there is a worry that if you ask questions, you’re going to push someone more into harmful or destructive behavior. The reality is that it may help to have the chance to talk about suicidal feelings.

Some of the questions you can ask include:

  • How are you dealing with things happening in your life?
  • Do you ever feel like you want to give up?
  • Are you thinking about harming yourself?
  • Do you think about dying or suicide?
  • Have you ever tried to harm yourself in the past?
  • Have you ever had suicidal thoughts in the past?
  • If you’ve had suicidal thoughts, do you think about you would do?
  • Do you have access to things you could use to harm or kill yourself?

Don’t Try to Solve the Problem

It can be good to get someone who’s experiencing suicidal thoughts talking because it lets them calm down and relieve some of their emotional burden. It can be easier for them to relieve some of their feelings and perhaps they’ll be less likely to do something sudden as a way of acting on their feelings.

While talking is good, trying to solve the problem isn’t helpful.

We all want to help the people we care about, but if we try to downplay what they’re going through or how they feel, it can become even worse for them.

Trying to argue about what someone is experiencing in certain situations can be harmful.

Just listen empathetically without making judgments or telling the person how they should or shouldn’t feel.

Encourage the Person to Seek Professional Help

While you can watch for warning signs and be a supportive listener, there’s only so much that you, as a non-professional, can do to help a friend or loved one dealing with suicidal thoughts.

You want to ensure that the person you care about has a safe contact who is a professional that they can access at all times.

You can, for example, encourage them to call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline with the number listed above.

You might also help the person dealing with suicidal thoughts find a professional, because when you’re dealing with depression you may not have the energy or motivation to get help on your own.

You can do research and find someone in your area and then offer to go with your friend or family member to their first appointment.

You should take any talk of death or suicide seriously, and don’t assume the person is trying to get attention.

Many of the people who end up dying by suicide did express an intention at various points in their life.

You may think you’re overreacting, but in these situations overreacting is better than underreacting.

You’re never responsible for someone else’s suicide, but you could be the person who helps someone get treatment and stay safe.

Finally, don’t forget the importance of taking care of yourself and your needs. You need a support system, too, if you’re supporting someone with suicidal thoughts. If you don’t have anyone in your life that you feel comfortable talking to, consider talking to a counselor or therapist.

It can be very draining on the loved ones of someone talking about or thinking about suicide, so don’t discount your own feelings.

You also don’t have to follow a set protocol for dealing with a situation like this. Do what you think is best at the moment and the best that you can do.

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