6 Ways to Help Someone Contemplating Suicide

I’ve felt the sting of suicide loss before. I’ve gone through the thoughts that tried to make sense of it. I’ve asked the question, “was there anything I could’ve done to help?” 

Unfortunately, these questions and thoughts have been replaying in my mind more often now. 

In 2017, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. And the suicide rate is only increasing with each year. In fact, the life expectancy of America dropped for the second year in a row last year due to the increasing number of suicides.

Suicide is a growing problem, which means, we need to be equipped with the right tools to prevent it.

If you have lost someone to suicide, know that there is nothing more you could’ve done to help that person. While there might’ve not been anything more you could’ve done, there is something you can do for those who are contemplating suicide.

Here are six ways the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention suggests helping someone who is contemplating suicide:

1. Notice the warning signs.

Before you can sit with a person in their pain, you must first notice their pain. With the busyness of life, it can be difficult to notice when someone is contemplating suicide—unless you know what to look for. Here are some signs that might indicate a possible suicide attempt:

  • If the person talks about killing themselves, feeling hopeless, being a burden to others, and other thoughts that might indicate suicide.
  • If the person engages in behavior such as increased substance use, telling people goodbye, isolating and withdrawing, or looking for methods to end their life.
  • If the person is more agitated, depressed, or exhibits a sudden relief (meaning, they all of a sudden feel better). 

Also, be on the lookout for factors that increase the risk of suicide. For instance:

  • If the person struggles with a mental illness.
  • If the person has experienced a stressful life event or prolonged stress.
  • Or if the person has been exposed to suicide in their history before.

Once you notice the warning signs, you can step in and help the person. 

2. Have an honest conversation with the person in private.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention suggests that if you think someone is contemplating suicide, assume you are the only person who will reach out. 

Have an open and honest conversation with the person. While you are talking with them, assume a listening posture. Don’t be the person who tries to fix or debate anything.

3. Show your support.

While you are talking with the person, show them you take their problems seriously and care for them. You could say things such as:

  • “Wow, that sounds like a tough situation to be in.”
  • “Thanks for being vulnerable with me. It helps to know how you’re feeling.”
  • “You’re not in this alone.”

Another way to show your support for someone is to ask for more details and be genuinely concerned about the details of their situation. Ask:

  • “Can you tell me more?”
  • “How did that feel?”
  • “What have these thoughts led you to do?”

4. Be direct.

If you think someone is contemplating suicide, muster up courage and directly ask them if they are. 

It can be difficult to ask if someone is contemplating suicide, but it could save a life. Research from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that asking about suicide does not put the idea in a person’s brain. Oftentimes, it helps the person feel relieved that someone cares enough about them to ask that question. 

When you are being direct, however, avoid sounding judgmental or like you don’t understand. Just ask them if suicide is on their mind.

5. Encourage them to seek help.

While connecting with a person is helpful, they need more help from a mental health professional. Suggest them to seek out a therapist, psychologist, social worker, doctor, or someone with mental health training.

If they are hesitant, offer to help them find one or drive them to a counselor’s office. 

If they refuse, don’t push it. If they aren’t in immediate danger, tell them you understand their choice and that if they change their mind, you’ll be there to help them.

6. Stay with them.

If the person does admit to contemplating suicide, and you suspect they are in immediate danger, it’s critical you stay with them.

While you are with them, help them remove any lethal means around them. This could be knives, substances, poisons, etc.

You could also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741 to get help from a trained crisis counselor.

Finally, you could escort them to mental health services or an emergency room. The important thing is that you don’t leave them alone.

You Can Fight Suicide

You don’t need to have any training or license to have an open and honest conversation with someone. If you notice someone contemplating suicide, assume you are the only person who can step in and care for that person. Be an active person in their life, and follow these strategies in your conversation with them.

Also, if you do not know anyone who might be contemplating suicide, that doesn’t mean you can’t help fight it. You could find ways to partner with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention here.

The suicide rate is increasing, but so are the tools to help prevent it. When someone has no joy, you can be a person who brings hope to their life. It could save their life.

**All of the research in this article was provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For more information, click here.

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