Ideas on How to Handle
Why Someone has Suicidal Thoughts
The Risk of Suicide
What if, during the conversation, you get the uneasy feeling that your friend or family member may be having suicidal thoughts? How can you tell if that’s the case? What do you do if you think it is?
2nd Leading Cause of Death in 2020
The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 million people die each year from suicide. In the United States in 2020, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in all categories. For the age group 10-34, it was the second leading cause of death. Virginia’s suicide rate was 13.97% for the same period.
Wish for an Alternative to Suicide
Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. The individual who chooses suicide as their only option feels self-loathing, hopelessness, and isolation. The unfortunate truth is that they can’t see any other way out of their situation other than to take their own life; however, it’s not something they want to do if they have another choice. If someone, anyone, can show them another way out that they feel can work, they might be willing to listen. Therefore, if you discover someone is on the verge of committing suicide, please reach out to them to offer them hope because they have none left.
Myths About Suicide
Almost everyone who commits suicide has given some clue or warning in advance. Don’t ignore even an indirect reference to death or suicide. Statements like, “You’ll be sorry when I’m gone,” “I can’t see any way out” –even if someone claims they made the statement in jest, could be a warning. Consider these statements along with other information to determine if other evidence supports greater concern.
Few people who commit suicide are psychotic or insane. Most are upset, grief-stricken, depressed, or despairing, but extreme distress and emotional pain are not signs of mental illness.
Most people who commit suicide aren’t performing the act because they have a desire to die. No, they are carrying it out because they want the pain to stop, and suicide is the only way they know how to do that. If you can help them get beyond the period of the worst of the pain, you can help keep them alive.
Studies indicate that at least fifty percent (50%) of the people who commit sought help from a doctor or counselor in the six months before their death.
Talking openly and honestly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can help save a life. It doesn’t put the idea of suicide into their heads; the idea is already there. Talking about it gets it out in the open and helps them free up the tension and fear.
tips for talking to someone about suicide
- Be direct; say what you mean. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide. Too often, people talk around the subject. Don’t. Use the words.
- Be yourself. Let the person know you care that they are not alone. Finding the right words is not nearly as important as showing your concern.
- Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings no matter what they may be; don’t try to tell the person they “don’t really feel that way.” Accept that they do.
- Let your friend or family member vent and unload their feelings. No matter how negative the conversation seems, the fact that it is taking place is a positive sign.
- 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.
- Don’t Argue. Avoid saying things like “you have so much to live for,” “Your suicide will hurt your family,” “You’re selfish to commit suicide,” or “Just snap out of it.”
- 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 or make promises to keep confidential about anything related to their safety. A life is at stake, and you may need to speak to a mental health professional to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you might have to break your word, which could jeopardize their trust in you for the future.
- Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance. You cannot guarantee that things will get better. Reassure your loved one that help is available, and that suicidal feelings are temporary. Let them know that their life is important to you.
- Take action. Remove means, like weapons or pills.
- Take them seriously. If they say, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask if they’re having thoughts of suicide. You’re allowing them to share their pain with you, not putting ideas in their head.
- Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
- Don’t offer ways to fix their problems, give advice, or make them feel like they must justify their suicidal feelings. It’s not about how bad the problem is but how badly your friend or loved one is hurting.
- Don’t blame yourself. You can’t fix someone’s depression or make them happy, nor can you take responsibility for bringing them out of their suicidal state of mind.
(If they do, you should consider helping them make a call to the crisis Lifeline during that conversation 1-800-273-8255)
- 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
When you’re talking to someone who is depressed, and you’re trying to convince them how important they are and how interested you are in them, excellent listening skills are essential. If you can’t pay attention and your mind wonders, you essentially communicate to the person they don’t matter to you. Instead of helping the person, you have reinforced what they believed all along – they don’t’ matter. Therefore, active listening requires concentration and understanding.
Here are some pointers.
Acknowledge the Speaker – Look them in the eye, nod your head, say, “Uh-huh.” Each of these actions indicates to the one speaking that you are paying attention to them.
Respond Verbally – Ask questions, make statements that clarify what the speaker said. Both show that you were listening and want to understand what was said or that you interpreted what they said correctly. However, always let the speaker finish talking first. Don’t interpret them to ask clarifying questions. Wait until they are finished.
Summarize What You Heard – After they stop talking, say something like, “I want to make sure that I fully understand what you just shared, so correct me if I leave anything out or get this wrong. Here’s what I believe you are trying to tell me. Then, summarize in a few sentences the story they told you.” You can either repeat the entire account, summarize or paraphrase it. You can also use words like, “what I’m hearing is…” or “sounds like you’re saying..”
Look the Part – Keep good eye contact, maintain good posture, and stay focused while participating in active listening. When you become distracted or unfocused, the speaker feels you don’t care. When they see you listening intently to them, the opposite happens.
If you feel that your family member or friend has a plan in progress about how to commit suicide, you need to take immediate action to help them. Evaluate the danger to the person and others immediately. Those at the highest risk for committing suicide soon can have already made the following four critical decisions.
- They have a specific plan detailing what they will do (How do you plan to kill yourself? What are the details?).
- They have secured the means for carrying it out (If you plan to use your mother’s pain medication to overdose, have you stolen the pills yet? Do you have enough to make sure that you die and not just injury yourself?).
- They have a set time for doing it, and (When do you plan to do it? Date and time? Location?)
- They are committed to carrying out their plan. (Have you decided this is what you want to do? Do you have any doubts at all?)
PLAN – MEANS – TIME SET – INTENTION
How to Assess Risk Level
Low – Some suicidal thoughts. No suicide plan. The person says they won’t attempt suicide.
Moderate – Suicidal thoughts. Vague plan that isn’t very lethal. Says they won’t attempt suicide.
High – Suicidal thoughts. Specific plan that is highly lethal. Says they won’t attempt suicide.
Severe – Suicidal thoughts. Specific plan that is highly lethal. The person says they will attempt suicide.
If the Risk is high, Call 9-1-1 and the local crisis line. If you know where to locate their “means,” and it’s safe to remove it, do so. Do NOT leave the suicidal person alone at any point.
Caution: Assess the person for potential threats of harm to others. If he or she is also a potential threat to others’ safety, notify the local police authorities of that risk and allow them to take control of the scene. If someone has nothing to lose, negotiations related to threats of harm to others should be handled by a trained professional.
Encourage Them to Get Professional Help.
- Do everything in your power to help them move toward accepting the help they need. Often, depressed people do not have the energy to act themselves; therefore, you may need to offer to be their hands and feet.
- Call a Suicide Prevention Lifeline for advice and referrals before talking to them and then have that number available when you are present with them. Make the call to Lifeline with their permission and hand them the phone.
- After the call, encourage them to follow up and see a mental health professional, help them locate a treatment facility, and offer to take them to the appointment.
- If the doctor prescribes medication, make sure they take it as directed.
- Be aware of possible side effects.
- Remind them of coping skills learned in therapy
- Those contemplating suicide may believe they can be helped, feel too ashamed to ask for it, or not have the energy to pick up the phone.
- Rather than leaving the ball in their court to call you if they need help, drop by or call to check on them or invite them out.
Encourage positive lifestyle changes.
- Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and get out in the sun or into nature for at least 30 minutes each day.
- Exercise is especially helpful because it releases endorphins, relieves stress, and promotes well-being.
Make a safety plan.
- Develop a set of steps they promise to follow during a suicidal crisis.
- List any triggers that may lead to a suicidal crisis, such as the anniversary of a loss, alcohol, or stress from relationships.
- Include contact numbers for your family member’s doctor or therapist, as well as friends and family members who will help in an emergency.
Remove potential means of suicide.
- Remove potential weapons such as pills, knives, razors, or firearms. If your family member is likely to take an overdose of a medication, they take regularly, lock the medicine in a vault, and dispense a dose only when it’s time for one.
Continue your support over the long haul.
- Even after the immediate suicidal crisis has passed, stay in touch, periodically checking in, or dropping by. Your support is vital in helping your family member remain on track in their recovery.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
If you believe someone is at risk of committing suicide within a few hours, do not leave them alone. Stay close and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help. That number is 1-800-273-Talk (8255). You can also call 911 and tell them what is happening. The Dispatcher for 9-1-1 will take your information and connect you to a suicide crisis counselor who will help you know what steps to take next.
What Happens When You Call The Lifeline?
You’ll hear a message telling you that you’ve reached the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Initially, you’ll be placed on hold and hear music playing while they connect you to a skilled, trained crisis worker who works at a Lifeline network center closest to you.
A trained crisis worker can help you. Share your problem with them. The crisis worker wants to hear about your situation to help you find the right resources to meet your needs. Your call is confidential and free.
No matter what problems you have or whether or not suicide is on your mind, if you need someone to lean on for emotional support, call Lifeline.
People call to talk about many things: drug problems, money trouble, relationships, sexual identity, domestic violence, depression, mental and physical illness, and loneliness, to name a few.
Talking with someone you know can save your life.
Warning Signs of Suicide
It’s important to know the warning signs for suicide when dealing with depression. No one wants to believe someone they care about wants to kill themselves, but if there is a chance that may be the case, you need to reach out to them. Take any talk of suicide seriously. Warning signs are not a way to get attention; they’re a cry for help. If you see the following in someone you know, take action to help.
- Talking about suicide, dying, or harming oneself
- A preoccupation with death
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness, having no reason to live, or self-hate
- Acting anxious or agitated or in dangerous or self-destructive ways
- Getting affairs in order and saying goodbye
- Giving things away that are important to them
- Seeking out pills, weapons, or any object capable of causing death.
- A sudden sense of calm after depression
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Extreme mood swings
Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask someone if they are thinking about committing suicide. It’s a myth that you can cause someone to commit suicide if they were not thinking about doing it previously, and you bring it up.