Someone you know has shared they are having thoughts of harming themselves or ending their life. Now what?
Suicidal thoughts are extremely common. The CDC estimates 12.2 million people in the United States in 2020 thought seriously about suicide. Being prepared to talk about suicide and support someone who is experiencing suicidal ideation will allow you to calmly and confidently help connect them to the professionals and resources they need to process their pain, heal, and continue moving forward in their lives.
Keep reading for tips on how to help someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Step 1 - Remain calm
It's hard to stay calm when someone you care about tells you they're thinking about ending their life. Remember first and foremost that they trust you or they wouldn't be able to be so vulnerable with you, and that they're looking for support. Remain calm, be empathetic, and for now just listen to what they are saying.
Step 2 - Take it seriously
We can't know what is in another person's mind. Take every suicidal statement or behavior seriously, talk to the person openly, and seek additional help as needed. If you feel like the person may be "faking," bear this in mind:
If the person is making false suicidal statements as an attention-seeking behavior, taking it seriously and getting professional help involved will provide the person with extra support and will involve people who can help the person learn healthier ways to ask for attention.
If the person is truly having thoughts of suicide, taking it seriously and getting professional help involved will save this person's life.
Step 3 - Listen and validate or call for emergency help?
You've kept your cool, you've listened to your loved one, you're taking it seriously. Now what? How do you know when to reach out for more help? The answer is, always seek out additional support. But, what kind of help is appropriate? If the person is having suicidal thoughts, but has no plan of how they intend to end their life, no access to things they could use to end their life, and they are open to continue talking, you can continue to listen to them and validate their feelings if you feel safe to do so. Keep building rapport and trust, and keep reading below for the next steps of partnering with the person and reaching out to professionals for more help.
At any point if you feel uncomfortable, unsure, or you're concerned for the safety of the person you're speaking to, you can (and should) call for emergency help:
If the person hasn't harmed themselves, aren't at imminent risk of doing so, and if you feel comfortable doing so, you can start with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
If the person has harmed themselves, you have safety concerns, or do not feel that you can keep the person safe, call 911.
Step 4 - Partner with them
Remember that this person trusts you enough to share some very scary and very vulnerable thoughts and feelings with you. One of the best and most effective ways that you can help them is to try to work with them and collaborate on solutions. Offering to be a support for them and to partner with them in taking the next steps will help give them the strength and courage to accept professional help, which is needed regardless of the circumstances of the suicidal thoughts. Talk to them about what they mean to you, your concerns for them, and always ask the question "How can I support you?" Even if they answer "I don't know," it will open the door for you to talk to them about accepting more help. Keep reading to learn about options for professionals who can help, and remember at any point if you feel the situation is escalating or that emergency help is needed, you can always call 911.
Step 5 - Seek help from professionals
There are many options for professional support for those experiencing suicidal thoughts. Here are some of the most common:
911 - This is a universal emergency support resource, and will allow you to have emergency responders go to where the person is. This is a good resources when you are concerned for the person's safety, if you suspect or know outright that they have done something to harm themselves, or if you aren't physically with them and are uncertain about their safety.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) - This free resource will allow you and/or the person in crisis to speak with a mental health professional who can offer support, guidance, and assess the person to determine if emergency intervention is needed.
Any Hospital Emergency Room - You can take your loved one to any hospital emergency room 24/7 and request an assessment. They will be able to talk with the person in crisis, determine if hospitalization is recommended, and provide referrals for treatment options ranging from hospitalization to outpatient therapy.
Mental Health Professionals - If the person is able to remain safe and does not need emergency intervention, you can offer to help them find a therapist and/or a psychiatrist. There are many online therapist directories, including Psychology Today, Therapy Den, and others. Look for a therapist who specializes in trauma and ideally in working with those with suicidal ideation, and reach out to them for their pricing, whether or not they accept insurance, and their availability. Many therapists offer free initial consultations, so you can get to know them and determine if you want to move forward with scheduling ongoing sessions with them.
For more resources, check out the Crisis Support list at Secret Self Counseling, PLLC.
The Last Step - Take Care of YOU
Supporting another person in their pain takes a lot out of you. Remember that you need support as well, because you cannot take care of others if you aren't first taking care of yourself. Be kind to yourself, remember that you cannot fix what is hurting the person you are supporting, and make sure that you have support to process your own thoughts and feelings with.
Are you looking for support for yourself or someone you care about? Reach out to Secret Self Counseling, PLLC today to schedule a free initial consultation.