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Female helping a person with suicidal thoughts.

How Do I Help Someone Experiencing Suicidal Thoughts?

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Suicide is not an easy thing to talk about. You or someone you know may have been affected by it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2020 almost 46,000 people died by suicide. That means one death every 11 minutes. 

That’s why it’s important to talk about it.

When a friend or loved one talks about suicide, it can be scary and overwhelming for you. But there are things that you can do to help someone you know who may be having suicidal thoughts. What you do or say can help save the life of someone. 

Learn about the warning signs and what you can do to prevent suicide and save a life.

What are the warning signs of suicide?

It’s not always easy to recognize the warning signs, but they’re there. Eight out of 10 people who are considering suicide give signs. Talking about suicide is not how someone would respond typically to stress. It is not a way of getting attention. 

When someone talks about suicide or takes certain actions, these are signs of extreme distress and signs that they need help. You should take any talk of suicide seriously. Here’s what to watch for:

What they say 

Making verbal statements such as:

  • “You’d be better off without me.”
  •  “Maybe I don’t need to be around any more.” 
  • “I can’t handle this anymore.”
  • “I don’t need to be here anymore.”

What they do

  • Giving away their prized possessions
  • Doing things that are daring or high risk
  • Making a plan or looking for ways to kill themselves e.g. searching online for lethal ways, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs 
  • Changing eating and sleeping habits

Changes in personality and mood

  • Expressing hopelessness or helplessness
  • Showing signs of depression
  • Having no interest in future plans
  • Talking about extreme guilt or shame
  • Showing extreme anxiousness or agitation
  • Showing extreme anger or talking about revenge

Many people who die by suicide have a mental health condition. Depression is the most common. Problems with relationships, substance use, physical health, and life stressors can also be related to suicide. Previous suicide attempts, a family history of suicide, and childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma are also risk factors for suicide.

If you see warning signs of suicide, you need to take action. 

What should I do if I see someone with suicidal signs?

Trust your instincts. If you see any of these warning signs, here’s what you can do:

Ask and actively listen

  • Talk with the person about your concerns. Communication needs to include listening to the person. 
  • Ask direct questions without being judgmental. Determine if the person has a specific plan to carry out the suicide. The more detailed the plan, the greater the risk. 
  • Asking someone directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” can be the best way to identify someone at risk for suicide. Studies have shown that asking people about suicidal thoughts and behaviors does not cause or increase such thoughts. 

Stay with them

  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Do not accompany them to unsafe places where they can harm themselves.

Stay calm and get help

  • Do not promise to keep what they’re saying a secret.
  • Do not act shocked or judgmental.
  • Do not give advice to the person yourself.
  • Get professional help, even if the person resists.

Where can I get help for suicide?

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. 

Encourage your friend or loved one to get professional help. Speaking to a licensed therapist can help them learn skills to use alternative ways of thinking and behaving during crisis and give them a support system to prevent future suicide attempts. 

As a friend or family member, you may also benefit from the support of a licensed therapist. Talking to someone can help you cope with and give support to your friends and loved ones who are in crisis.

See how Missi Kenyon coped with her suicidal thoughts and how it shaped her experience with helping a close friend. 

Last Updated:
Published:
First Published:
September 16, 2022

Sources:

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. (n.d.). 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Retrieved September 13, 2022 from https://988lifeline.org/

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (n.d.). Risk factors, protective factors, and warning signs. Retrieved September 13, 2022 from https://afsp.org/risk-factors-protective-factors-and-warning-signs

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, June 8). Suicide Data and Statistics. Retrieved September 13, 2022 from https://www.cdc.gov/suicide/suicide-data-statistics.html

Find Your Words. (n.d.). Depression and thoughts of suicide. Retrieved September 13, 2022 from https://findyourwords.org/depression-help/suicidal-thoughts/

Mental Health America. (n.d.). Suicide. Retrieved September 13, 2022 from https://www.mhanational.org/conditions/suicide

National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Frequently Asked Questions About Suicide. NIMH Mental Health Information Brochures and Fact Sheets. Retrieved September 13, 2022 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-faq

Suicide and Prevention Resource Center. (2020, September). Scope of the Problem. Retrieved September 13, 2022 from https://sprc.org/about-suicide/scope

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