Trying to help a friend or loved one who is feeling suicidal can be confusing, uncomfortable or just plain scary. But by reaching out, you could help an at-risk person get the help they need—and maybe even save their life.
It’s hard to know what to say when you think someone might be at risk for self-harm. You might even worry that speaking up could push the person further away. Or drive them to act on their thoughts.
But often, speaking up can help prevent self-harm or suicide attempts. And family members and friends are often the first ones to spot the signs that something is wrong.
If someone you know is at risk, here’s what you can do to help.
Know the warning signs of suicide
It can be tempting to tell yourself that a loved one is only a little blue or going through a rough patch. But there are some behaviors you shouldn’t ignore. Your loved one may be thinking of suicide if they:
- Talk about feeling empty, hopeless or trapped.
- Feel like they’re a burden to others.
- Feel unbearable emotional or physical pain.
- Give away prized possessions.
- Withdraw from family or friends—or even say goodbye.
- Act anxious or agitated.
- Show rage or talk about getting revenge.
- Have extreme mood swings or personality changes.
- Start using alcohol or drugs more heavily.
- Engage in very risky behavior that could lead to death.
- Talk about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves.
- Make a suicide plan or look up ways to commit suicide.
How to help someone at risk for suicide
If a loved one is feeling suicidal, you want to take action right away to get them the help they need. But it’s crucial do so in a way that’s gentle, caring and compassionate. Here are six tips that may help:
- Ask the tough questions. Ask the person if they’re thinking about suicide or if they have a plan to end their life. Being direct isn’t always easy. But studies show that asking an at-risk person doesn’t increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
- Try to keep them safe. Do what you can to limit the person’s access to highly lethal items—like weapons or pills. And don’t leave them alone.
- Be there for them. Don’t worry if you don’t know what to say. Just listening closely and acknowledging the person’s feelings can often be a big help.
- Drop the judgment. Don’t try to tell the person that their feelings are wrong, bad or shocking. Lecturing won’t help—and it could push the person away.
- Seek professional help. Don’t swear to secrecy—and don’t try to counsel the person yourself. Instead, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or reach out to a mental health professional.
- Follow up. Keep checking in with the person regularly after the crisis. Letting them know that you care can make a difference.
Where to turn for help
If you think someone is at immediate risk of suicide, that’s an emergency. Call 911 right away.
Otherwise, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). It’s toll-free and confidential—and it’s available to everyone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They’ll connect you to mental health resources in your area.
The Emotional Wellness Center at Adventist Health Portland is another option for those battling ongoing mental health challenges. For questions or a referral to this program, please call 503-261-5953.
Author: LivingWell PDX Blog
Adventist Health is committed to creating a healthier Portland community.