Has one of your friends made jokes about killing themselves? Have you noticed a friend withdrawing from hanging out, or seeming depressed? Does someone you know say that they’ve had suicidal thoughts? Are you concerned that your friend is suicidal, but won’t get help?
Suicide is a growing cause of death in the world today and can occur at any point along an individual’s lifespan. According to the World Health Organization, about 800,000 people die due to suicide every year 1(World Health Organization, 2019). There are some ways to help and things to do that can be implemented at any level, no matter how small they might save someone’s life. So whether it is you or a friend or family member that is struggling with suicidal thoughts, check out these tips below to better equip you in suicide prevention and support.
1. Use the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
The Crisis Text Line is a free resource you can use to text experts on issues related to suicide and guide you in the right direction. Talking one on one with someone over the phone you have never met can be scary, so the texting hotline eliminates that initial fear of speaking with someone to make it easier to express yourself through text. The crisis text line is available 24/7 and can be used whether you or someone you care about is in a crisis or having a bad day. Text the number 741741 to reach a crisis counselor and seek the help you need for your loved one.
2. Use free counseling sources for phone help.
- The National Suicide Prevention Helpline (800-273-8255) is a way to connect with someone via phone call. Anyone dealing with any crisis or problem can call them (it doesnt’ just have to be about suicide) and you can call if you’re concerned about someone else, or encourage your friend to call them. Talking with someone who has experience and knowledge will guide you and your loved one in a direction away from suicide.
- Many organizations offer free counseling to their members. Maybe you’re a college student trying to seek help, check out your campus’s counseling services they provide. For example, at Arizona State University, counseling services are available to students and faculty via a 24-hour call center or appointments with a certified counselor. ASU’s dedicated mental health line is a 24-hour free resource to counseling resources right on campus. Depending on your workplace, there might also be counseling services available through your job as well.
- Most health insurance companies also offer mental health services and counseling. *COVID-19 UPDATE* Many insurance companies are now offering free or reduced-cost mental health services such as telehealth appointments with psychologists as part of supporting wellbeing at this time.
3. Listen to your friend or loved one.
Lending an ear to a friend for them to express themselves can be just as effective as seeking professional help. Allowing your friend to talk through their emotions and what may cause them to feel like suicide is their answer can deescalate the situation and help them feel validated. It is important to listen and not talk in a way that discredits their feelings.
4. Support yourself.
Helping those you care about and watching them go through difficult times will take a toll on you as well. You cannot help someone else if you are also unstable or emotionally distraught. Seek help from other friends and family members for advice, talk to an emotional support hotline yourself, talk to your loved one’s care team for better understanding if they permit, or even join a local support group for others who care for their friends with mental illnesses. Be there for yourself in the ways you are there for your friend!
5. Get some training on suicide prevention.
- Courses and programs dedicated to training those around someone who is suicidal are offered frequently, low cost, and easily accessible. Training classes exist in online sessions as well as in-person classes.
- Shorter/Online Programs:
- LivingWorks Start is a low-cost 90-minute course to help anyone who wants to learn more about safety and suicide prevention and is designed to be appropriate for adults as well as youth as young as 13.
- Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program also hosts virtual webinars for a variety of age groups to educate and train on suicide prevention.
- Longer (more in-depth)/In-Person Options: A few programs to check out to get you started by LivingWorks are ASIST and safeTalk. They include learning modules and practice scenarios to teach effective ways to approach the person you are concerned about to get them help.
- Shorter/Online Programs:
6. Get the facts and assess their risk level.
Asking questions that don’t lead to a solution can be a good way to determine whether or not the person is an immediate threat to themselves. The Rethink Mental Illness Organization suggests asking direct questions, like “Are you thinking about ending your life?” and “Do you have a plan to commit suicide?” 2(Rethink Mental Illness, n.d.). These will directly address the person’s feelings and give you the information you need to assess their risk level to themselves. Avoiding the issue or changing the subject has the potential to make them feel rejected or unheard and could escalate their suicidal tendencies.
7. Help them connect to professional services and keep them safe in immediate threat situations.
- If after talking to them, you’re not worried that they are thinking about harming themselves, you can encourage them to get connected with a professional who can help, starting with getting them connected to the resources we discussed above. You could help them out by offering to do a call or text with them, if they’re nervous.
- If they are assumed to be an immediate threat to themselves right now, don’t leave them alone and have a crisis plan to find them the help they need. Keeping your friend talking and removing items that they could use to end their life from their immediate access will aid in de-escalating their emotions until you find the right professional resources to help them.
8. Simply check in on them whenever you can.
Someone you may know that struggles with suicidal thoughts requires an ongoing support system. Simply texting “Hello!” or “What are you up to today?” will show that you are a friend and that you do care. Let them know you are thinking about them, even if they aren’t there with you and aren’t physically in a crisis situation. Remind them they are of value and of the things they have in their life that are of value to them.
9. Recognize some warning signs and listen to your gut feeling if you are concerned.
Be aware of your friends behaviors and recognize if they have changed in any way. Though suicidal thoughts are explicitly seen on someone, their changes in behavior like not eating as much or sleeping too much or wanting to be alone a lot of the time can be warning signs. If you feel concerned about someone and their changes in behavior, seek professional help through hotlines or counseling services to help them and provide them the resources they need. Simply asking how they are feeling may also get them to open up to you without accusing them of anything first.
10. Help with crisis planning to keep them safe.
- A crisis plan can be put in place to give the support a person needs in the event of a crisis. This is helpful to plan before a crisis begins, but can be planned with friends and family in the midst of a crisis as well. The main goal is to keep that person safe and provide them with the necessary resources to support them in that moment of time. The Rethink Mental Illness organization suggests a couple different things to be included in a crisis plan such as: not being alone, talking to a designated hotline or person, objects that are symbolic of the reasons they have to live, and distraction techniques like reading a book, watching a movie, going on a walk, etc. While you should never avoid the topic of their suicidal thoughts, if they feel supported through activities like going to a park or listening to music then doing those things with them or making them ready to do for them can be successful.
- If you haven’t attended any training to learn how to assist in crisis planning, help your friend get connected to a professional using tips 1-4 above, to help them develop their crisis plan. Once they have a crisis plan, you can be part of the support network that is included in most crisis plans, and/or provide support for helping them in following it.
- World Health Organization. (2019, September 2). Suicide. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/suicide
- Rethink Mental Illness. (n.d.). Suicidal thoughts- How to support someone. Retrieved from https://www.rethink.org/advice-and-information/carers-hub/suicidal-thoughts-how-to-support-someone/