Raise your hand if suicide has personally touched your life. Has a friend, loved one or celebrity you admired died by suicide? Or perhaps suicidal ideation is something you grapple with yourself.
One of my first blog posts shared my personal observations about suicide. While that was an important post, it is time to take it a step further. It is not good enough to know there is a problem. You need a game plan of what to do when you are face to face with someone in crisis.
Before I launched my blog, I only trotted out my bipolar disorder diagnosis on designated days of the year when the spotlight was shining on mental illness and suicide. Once I shared a post about depression on Facebook, and a high school acquaintance reached out to me.
He asked if I struggled with depression and shared he had been dealing with an exceptionally rough patch of major depression for the past two years.
The person who reached out to me was extraordinary. He was kind and smart and left people better off than when he found them. He was a big deal, and I was not.
His position in life intimidated me, and my lack of accomplishments embarrassed me. If anyone else would have reached out to me, I would have started a genuine dialogue about the horrors of depression.
Because I felt small, I gave a small response. It was inadequate. I would even say it was glib. I said depression was “so hard” and I “hoped” he felt better soon. Seven months later he died by suicide.
And even though I intellectually know I was not responsible for his death, I cry every time I recall my inadequate response. His death woke me up. I found my voice and here I am.
The Saddest Statistic
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “The suicide rate for individuals with serious mental illness and mood disorders—such as depression or bipolar disorder—is 25 times that of the general public. Ninety percent of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental health condition.”
Mental illness is one factor that causes suicide, but you should also be on high alert if a friend or loved one exhibits entirely new behavior—especially in response to a painful event, loss or change.
Most people who die by suicide exhibit one or more warning signs. Knowing these warning signs can help save a life.
Suicide Warning Signs
- Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself.
- Looking for a way to kill oneself—such as searching online or buying a gun.
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
- Talking about being a burden to others.
- Increasing alcohol or drug use.
- Acting anxious or agitated.
- Behaving recklessly.
- Sleeping too much or too little.
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
- Displaying extreme mood swings.
- Losing interest in things or losing the ability to experience pleasure.
How to Save a Life
Don’t be naïve enough to believe no one in your circle of influence has ever been suicidal. Before I launched my blog, no one in my family and social circle had any idea how frequently I experience suicidal ideation.
You can’t help anyone in a crisis if you haven’t done your homework. It is one thing to educate yourself about how to handle a suicidal friend or loved one, but it is another thing to put that knowledge to the test.
What happens once you have identified a crisis? What steps do you take to intervene and help save a life?
Here are five steps to help someone who is suicidal:
1. Initiate a private conversation.
This is not a conversation you want to have at Starbucks. Invite your friend or loved one to a quiet place where they will feel safe enough to share their story. They need to know you care, and your feelings for them will not change because they are considering suicide.
2. Be an active listener.
This is the time to use your best listening skills. You will hear things that may shock you. That shock should never show on your face. You must remain calm.
Be an active listener, so you can ask follow-up questions to help gauge the urgency of the situation. It is important to remember not everyone experiencing suicidal thoughts is in imminent danger.
3. Once you have listened and assessed the situation, express your concerns.
This is not the time to shy away from a direct conversation about your friend or loved one’s suicidal ideation. Talking about suicide does not lead to suicide completion. They may even feel relieved that someone cared enough to ask the question.
Don’t pass judgment or guilt-trip them. You will have better results if you make it clear they have your complete understanding and support.
4. Encourage them to seek professional help.
It is great you are supporting your friend or loved one, but remember you are not a mental health professional. This is the time to suggest they seek professional help.
The first step toward help is the hardest. You can make that first step a little less daunting by helping your friend or loved one schedule an appointment and offering transportation to the appointment.
5. If the suicidal ideation escalates, take action.
Once you have concluded there is an emergency, here are your next steps:
- Stay with them (as long as you are not in danger).
- Help them remove lethal means.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. Help is available 24/7.
- Bring them to the emergency room or call 911.
Do everything in your power to help your friend or love one get professional help, but remove yourself from any situation that endangers your personal safety.
I hope today’s post helps you internalize the importance of speaking up when you are face to face with someone who is contemplating suicide. It will not be an easy conversation, but it is a necessary one.
Please keep in mind that a suicidal crisis does not last forever. Your intervention can save a life. The person may be angry with you in that moment, but they may feel differently when the crisis is over, and they have received help.
If someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please use the following resources to help get them professional help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—Available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
Crisis Text Line—Connect with a crisis counselor by texting “START” to 741-741. Available 24/7. If someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please use the following resources to help them get professional help.
TrevorChat—LGBTQ Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Hotline—Available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7346 or text “START” to TrevorText at 678-678.
Veterans Crisis Hotline—Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 to connect with caring, qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many of them are Veterans themselves. You can also send a text to 838255.
International Suicide Hotlines—Suicide.org has a comprehensive list of international suicide hotlines.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides a wealth of information about how to handle a suicidal friend or loved one. Read their blog post that outlines the ways to start a real conversation (#RealConvo) about suicide with someone in crisis.
These are very important steps I think everyone should be aware of. Thank you for taking the time to talk about them and spread awareness.
Rachel, thank you for taking the time to read my post and comment. I am glad it resonated with you.
Brilliant tips…so important to seek professional help and active listening is a great skill.
Thanks for taking the time to read my post and comment. When helping someone in crisis, it is important for us to remember that we are not the experts. We must encourage our friend or loved one to get help from a trained professional.
My family has experienced suicide. Thank you so much for spreading awareness and for sharing these great tips on how to help someone struggling with depression/suicidal ideation. The stakes are way too high for us not to act!!
Laura, I am so sorry I am that suicide touched your family. Sadly, there are very few people who can say it hasn’t. Thank you for taking the time to read my post and comment on it. My hope is that people educate themselves so they can act when someone they love is in crisis.
Thank you for sharing. Awesome read. Thank You again.
Iris, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post. I am glad it resonated with you.
These tips are very helpful for people in depression. They need help and awareness. Thanks for this post.
Kavitha, thanks for taking the time to comment and read my post. I am glad it resonated with you.
Very important in our world today. As a 22 year old these steps are crucial to look out for in friends and students.
Natalie, you are so right. We do need to be on the lookout for those in our circle of influence who are struggling. A close family member died by suicide last week, and we were shocked. I hadn’t seen him in a while, but I don’t think his immediate family saw any warning signs. It was such a tragedy.
Maria Black says
Amazing, these tips will save lives-thank you so much for sharing ?
Maria, I am glad you found my post helpful.
Sorry to hear that you too suffered… May that guys soul RIP. Actually its really a tough time to take action .once I had these thoughts , I immediately read some blogs and quora.. Then after a period I felt relaxed .. This blog contains really valuable ideas to implement when someone is in need help .
Thank you for sharing .
Dayana, I am glad you overcame your troubling thoughts.
I have been hit by suicidal thoughts when I was going my teenage motherhood journey. But through support I conquered it
Kgalalelo, I am sorry you experienced suicidal thoughts, but I am glad you overcame it.
I agree, whether you are aware of it or not, someone you know and love has been affected. I’ve administered countless suicide screenings over the years as a school counselor. Many children referred for statements appearing to be “jokes” on the surface are facing more challenges that we often realize. When we see or hear something concerning, we all have a responsibility to act.
Tana, I completely agree. We must never discount someone talking about suicide. If they are talking about it, we need to listen and take action if necessary.
This was difficult to read, but also important. Thank you for sharing these tools to equip us for a difficult discussion.
Samantha, I am so glad you found the post helpful.
This is an insightful and informative post, and something more people should definitely be aware of. Thank you for sharing Andrea.
Carol, I am glad you found this post helpful.