Can you save someone from suicide? One person dies of suicide every 40 seconds. This means in a given lifetime, all of us will likely encounter someone in crisis. Suicide is preventable, and with more awareness and understanding of the mood disorders which contribute to suicide, we can all help prevent unnecessary deaths from occurring.
If You Suspect Suicidal Ideation
Not everyone who has thoughts of self-harm/suicide wears their feelings on their sleeves. Many suicidal people have lived with depression for years, making them adept at hiding their struggle from others.
Learn to recognize the warning signs of depression. In more than 90% of cases, suicide is an outcome of a pre-existing mood disorder and associated risk factors. For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities, or relationships with others.
Apart from depression symptoms, you’ll also want to look out for signs that a suicide is imminent. Things like visiting or calling people to say goodbye, comments about wanting to die, and giving away prized possessions are red flags that should be addressed immediately.
Start the conversation about mental health. Bring up the symptoms you’ve noticed, and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions. Research shows that asking someone if they are thinking about suicide will not put the idea in their head or push them into action. In fact, asking someone directly, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” may be the question to help save their life.
If Someone Admits They’re Suicidal
When someone opens up to you, always take them seriously, even if they try to play it off. Never brush off or dismiss their feelings as not serious. Think of it as an opportunity to help, keeping in mind that you are not responsible for someone else’s actions.
How to respond to suicidal behaviors:
- Stay calm, positive, and hopeful.
- Ask them if they would like to talk to you or someone else, preferably one-on-one in person, over the phone, or through private messages, chat, text, or email.
- Actively listen and encourage them to keep talking.
- Show your support by saying things like, “I’m right here with you,” and “Nothing you’re going through changes how I feel about you.”
- Be direct and ask them if they have a suicide plan (date, time, tool, etc.).
- If they have a plan, keep them safe. Make sure they are not alone. Stay with them, seek out their relatives, or call the police. Separate them from anything they could use to hurt themselves.
- Follow up with questions.
- Stay with them, or contact someone on their behalf who can keep them safe.
- If they don’t have a suicide plan yet, get them to draw on their own experiences and resources by asking if they’ve felt this way before and how they coped in the past.
- Do not agree to keep secrets.
- Encourage them to seek long-term help through religious, community, family, or cultural leaders.
- Connect them to local healthcare professionals like counselors, therapists, or a depression treatment facility.
- Share the hotline number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
- Follow up in the days and weeks after a crisis.
- Help them fill out a Suicide Prevention Plan and Suicide Prevention Kit.
3 Steps to Save a Life: Awareness, Connection, and Action
Knowing the signs to look for is the first step in preventing suicide. If someone is acting out of the ordinary or exhibiting warning signs of depression or suicide, that’s a red flag. Suicidal thoughts are common, especially when you feel overwhelmed by something and don’t have a clear idea how to handle it. Passive thoughts, though unwelcome, don’t automatically make someone a suicide risk. Once passive thoughts become active suicidal ideation, that’s when you proceed to the next step.
Be on alert if someone expresses any of the following thoughts or similar feelings:
- I wonder what it would be like not to exist any longer.
- I don’t think anyone would care if I suddenly disappeared.
- I don’t think there is any reason to be here any longer.
- People would get along fine without me.
- Death isn’t so bad.
- I would be better off dead.
- There is nothing good to be found in life.
- No one really cares about me; they are all just pretending.
Follow up with questions to see if they have a plan or if they have thought about how they would take their life. When in doubt, ask someone directly if they are thinking about suicide.
If there are multiple warning signs and red flags, or if someone has admitted they are thinking about suicide, connect with them. If you come across their message online, invite them to chat. Ask them if they’re comfortable with a phone call — or better yet, a visit. If you’re unable to get to them in person, work on trying to get a friend or family member to be with them. If they are in immediate danger of suicide, call the police.
Follow the tips listed above while you’re talking to them. Actively listen and encourage them to keep talking. Show your support and be there for them. Ask follow-up questions and try to be direct. While you’re not telling them to just look on the bright side, you do want to instill hope in them.
Once you’ve done everything you can to keep them safe, start thinking about other solutions which can help over the long term. Though you are not an expert in mental health and may not have experience with underlying causes of suicide such as depression, there are experts and care facilities out there with high success rates in treating mood disorders. For example, Ketamine Therapy has been found to counter suicidal thoughts quickly, safely, and more efficiently than oral antidepressants and other forms of therapy, including talk therapy.
Help them create a Suicide Prevention Kit filled with their favorite things. Giving them something to do to take their mind off their suicidal thoughts will be helpful. Thinking of and finding their favorite things will help them remember why life is worth living. This kit can be used any time in the future if suicidal thoughts return.
Keep in mind that finding local programs and services in the middle of a crisis may be too much effort for someone who is suicidal. Connecting them to resources will be helpful once the immediate crisis is over. In the days, weeks, and months following a crisis, check in on them.
Don’t Forget About You
When you become invested in someone else’s well-being, remember to also take care of yours. Don’t feel bad if the emotional load is too heavy to carry on your own. Holding space for someone in emotional pain is not an easy task. It requires you to witness and validate someone else’s emotional state while simultaneously being present to your own.
If you decide to walk alongside your friend through their recovery, find someone you can talk to about this, such as a counselor or a friend or family member you trust.