If someone you know is in immediate danger, is threatening suicide, or talking about wanting to hurt themselves, call 911 or get help from an adult you trust. All information has been gathered from various mental health resources.
Suicide happens across all groups, populations, and ages. Knowing the warning signs and knowing what to do is one of the most important ways you can help to prevent suicide before it happens. And while suicide can’t be prevented with complete certainty, there are steps we can all take to lower the risk among those around us. In this blog, I’ll be talking about signs that could indicate someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, and what you can do in these situations, with an aim towards youth. There are many resources you can seek that offer training in these areas, and what to look for and how to react. Many communities and schools offer safeTALK and ASIST for students that will give instruction on suicide intervention skills, which can be incredibly useful and important when applied properly to crisis situations.
Let’s start with some information on contacts for crisis and non-crisis situations. In crisis situations, there are many helplines available, as well as 911. Calling 911 will give you information on next steps, and connect with immediate help if needed. I urge you to not be afraid to call 911 if you believe someone is in immediate danger. If you’re unsure, calling a helpline may be another option. Kids help phone is a good resource for children and youth. The counselor will give you next steps, and advice for resources around you. It’s also important to mention that suicide prevention does not necessarily mean preventing a suicide that is imminent. It can mean helping someone you know is in need to connect with supports. Someone can still be showing suicidal ideation while not being an immediate suicide risk, and this does not mean that getting help is any less important.
So, what should you look for? Three basic things to look for are mood, behavior, and words. Does this person talk about being a burden, having no reason to live, wanting to die, or being in pain? It could be blunt, or small things you may notice that they say that could indicate they are thinking about suicide. Do they abuse substances, act recklessly, isolate themselves, withdraw from activities, are they giving away their possessions? These and more can all be behavioral indicators of suicidal thoughts. Do they display signs of depression, irritability, anxiety, or anger? Suicidal thoughts can come out in a number of ways, and it’s important to check in on those around you when it seems like something has changed. Sometimes, unfortunately, none of these actions can be seen from the outside, and you can miss someone struggling in front of your eyes. This is why it’s still important to check on those around you, even when things seem fine. It can never hurt to reach out.
There are certain risk factors to look out for as well, that don’t cause or predict a suicide but can make it more likely that someone will consider suicide. These can include a history of mental illness, substance use, impulsiveness, major physical or chronic illness, local clusters of suicide, lack of social support, loss of relationships, and many others. It’s important to be aware of these, and be aware that suicide never has one single cause.
So you’ve analyzed the situation, and you’ve decided to talk to the person in need. What next? First, you need to make sure that you’re the right person to approach them, as it may not be you. If you don’t think you’re capable of having these hard conversations, or you have any bias that may upset the person, you may not be the best person to approach them. In this situation, you have a number of options. Talking to a parent, guidance counselor, trusted adult, primary care doctor, or a helpline are all ways you can choose to ask for help in approaching the person involved. They will help from there. If you do decide to have the conversation, it’s important that you have a plan of action, and consider possible outcomes and how you will respond. It’s still vital that a trusted adult is aware of what is happening as youth should never handle this alone.
Start with some questions about how they’ve been feeling. You may choose to ask if they’ve been struggling with anything as an entry point, but it’s important you keep going. Listen to what they have to say, and ensure them that they can trust you. You may choose to go into direct questions, and asking if they have been thinking of killing themselves. If they do say they’ve been thinking of suicide, it’s imperative to ask further questions to evaluate immediate danger. Ask if they have a plan, or if it has just been a thought. If they do have a plan, they’re at a higher risk of being in danger. If a suicide attempt seems imminent, call a crisis center, 911, or take the person to an emergency room. Taking measures such as making sure they don’t have access to anything that could be dangerous, such as guns, drugs, knives, or other potential weapons.
Make sure you stay calm and do not leave the person alone. Focus on listening to them, asking questions, and keeping engaged. Insisting on getting help too harshly can have negative consequences, and may cause them to panic. Don’t worry too much about saying the wrong thing, but do stay away from certain things. Avoid telling them that you know what they’re going through, but also don’t be afraid to show empathy. Acknowledge their pain, and tell them you’re there to listen. Don’t pose judgment or guilt them. Saying things like “Think of the people you’re hurting” or “Suicide is a selfish act” can worsen how they’re feeling. Avoid things like passive optimism and things like “it gets better”. This does nothing to improve the current situation and does not solve the problem at hand. However, providing a sense of hope in a meaningful and realistic way can be helpful, as long as you’re not making promises you don’t decide.
If from there, you both decide that it’s not serious enough to seek professional help, ensure that they check in with you on a decided schedule, and make sure they do. Don’t be afraid to ask how they’re feeling when they neglect to let you know, and try to have honest conversations with them. Ask them what helps them get through these tougher times, and remember it for future situations.
Don’t be afraid to seek other resources for help in these situations, and view this blog as a starting point for guiding yourself through situations like these. Always make sure you’re taking care of yourself through this process as well, self-care is extremely important, as these kinds of situations can be emotionally draining. Don’t be afraid to talk it out with someone, and check in on how you’re feeling as well. I hope you found this useful, thank you for reading!
Til Next Time