Every day friends, family, and loved ones struggle with emotional pain, and for some these feelings may turn into thoughts of suicide. Feeling depressed, angry, or suicidal can be a natural reaction to some of life’s challenges. These feelings don’t define a person, but are very important to recognize and create a safety plan around. California’s Know the Signs Campaign (www.suicideispreventable.org) has a lot of great resources to help families and friends recognize the signs, find the words to say, and reach out to additional resources.
If any of these signs below are present, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. You don’t have to be suicidal yourself to call this hotline, they also provide resources and support for family and friends.
- Talking about death or suicide.
- Seeking methods for self-harm, such as searching online or obtaining a gun.
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.Below is a list of some possible warning signs to check in with your loved one for possible suicide risk.
Recognize the Signs of Possible Suicide Risk
- Talking about dying or being a burden -- any mention of dying, suicide, disappearing, self-harm, or being a burden to others
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, desperate, trapped, no sense of purpose, and no hope for the future; believing things will never get better; that nothing will ever change; that people would be better off without them
- Recent Loss -- through death, divorce, separation, broken relationships, loss of job, money, status, self-confidence, self-esteem, loss of religious faith, loss of interest in friends and activities previously enjoyed
- Sudden Mood Changes -- sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic, or agitated
- Change in Behavior or Reckless behavior -- can't concentrate on school, work, routine tasks, exhibiting uncontrollable anger, or acting reckless like driving too fast, increasing alcohol or drug use
- Change in Sleep Patterns – Either sleeping too much or not sleeping enough
- Change in Eating Habits -- Loss of appetite and weight, or overeating
- Putting affairs in order -- making a will, arranging for care of pets, and/or giving away possessions
Before you talk to someone you are concerned about, have a list of crisis resources on hand. Practice what you will say, and make sure you have the conversation when you won’t be in a hurry and can spend time with the person.
REMEMBER: The risk of suicide may be greatest as the depression lifts.
How to help a friend
Start the Conversation
Directly ask your friend, “are you thinking of ending your life?” There is a myth that you will give someone the idea of suicide if you ask them about it. In fact, it can be a great relief if you bring the question of suicide into the open and discuss it freely without showing shock or disapproval. Raising the question of suicide shows that you are taking the person seriously and responding to the potential of their distress.
"I'm deeply concerned about you and I want you to know that help is available to get you through this."
Listen, express concern, and reassure
Listen to the reasons the person has for both living and dying. Validate that they are considering both options and underscore that living is an option for them. Let the person know you care. Letting them know that you take their situation seriously and you are genuinely concerned about them will go a long way in your effort to support them.
"I can’t imagine how tough this must be for you. I understand when you say that you aren't sure if you want to live or die. But have you always wanted to die? Well, maybe there's a chance you won't feel this way forever. I can help."
Create a safety plan
Ask the person if they have access to any lethal means (weapons, medications) and help remove them from the vicinity. (Another friend, family member or law enforcement agent may be needed to assist with this.) Do not put yourself in danger; if you are concerned about your own safety, call 911. Create a safety plan together, ask the person what will help keep them safe until they can talk to a professional. Get a verbal commitment that the person will not act upon thoughts of suicide until they have met with a professional.
"Do you have any weapons or prescription medications in the house?"
Provide the person with the resources you have come prepared with. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime at 1-800-273-8255. If you feel the situation is critical, take the person to a nearby Emergency Room or walk-in psychiatric crisis clinic or call 9-1-1.
"I understand if it feels awkward to go see a counselor. But there is a phone number we can call to talk to somebody. Maybe they can help?"
What not to say
Don’t say, “you’re not thinking about doing something stupid.” Don't ask questions in a way that shows you want to hear "No" for an answer.
Don't tell the person to do it. You may want to shout in frustration or anger, but this is the most dangerous thing you can say.
Don't Say: "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone. Your secret is safe with me."
Don't promise secrecy. The person may say that they don't want you to tell anyone that they are suicidal. Say this instead: "I care about you too much to keep a secret like this. You need help and I am here to help you get it." You may be concerned that they will be upset with you, but when someone's life is at risk, it is more important to ensure their safety. If you want to talk about a friend in trouble, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They'll help you figure out what to do. You don't have to be suicidal yourself to call a Suicide Prevention hotline.
Stories of Suicide Attempt Survivors
Even though there is a lot of silence and stigma around suicide, there are people who have survived suicide attempts and have become beacons of hope for those who are currently struggling. The S Word is documentary that tells the story of five people, four suicide attempt survivors and one suicide loss survivor and their stories of hope and resiliency including the experiences of their families. Check out more about the film at https://theswordmovie.com/. Click here to hear about Kevin Hine’s inspirational story of surviving a jump from the Golden Gate Bridge to become a world-famous public speaker that shares his message of hope across the nation http://www.kevinhinesstory.com/.