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How to help someone who is suicidal

The fear that a loved one might be considering suicide is deeply unsettling. Recognizing the signs and knowing how to help can potentially save a life. This article provides guidance on understanding, supporting, and assisting someone who might be suicidal.

1. Recognize the Warning Signs

It’s crucial to be aware of common signs that may indicate someone is thinking of suicide. While each person’s experience with suicidal ideation is unique, there are common warning signs to look out for:

  • Verbal clues or statements about feeling hopeless, helpless, or worthless: Statements like “I wish I hadn’t been born,” “If I see you again…” or “I’d be better off dead.”
  • Expressing a desire to die or kill oneself.
  • Researching ways to commit suicide or buying lethal tools: This can include seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means.
  • Sudden mood shifts: From extreme depression to appearing calm or content.
  • Withdrawal: Pulling away from friends, family, and regular activities.
  • Changes in routine: Disturbed sleep patterns, appetite changes, neglect of personal appearance, and dropping out of activities or hobbies.
  • Risk-taking behavior: Engaging in harmful activities recklessly.
  • Expressing feelings of entrapment: Saying they can’t see a way out of their current situation.
  • Giving away possessions: Unexpectedly gifting or getting rid of personal items.
  • Saying goodbye: Unexpected or unusual visits or calls to family and friends.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.

2. Engage in Open Conversation

  • Listen Actively: Allow them to share their feelings without interruption or judgment.
  • Ask Directly: If you suspect someone may be suicidal, it’s essential to ask them outright. This can be done gently, such as, “Are you thinking of hurting yourself?”
  • Stay Calm: Your composed demeanor can provide them with a sense of stability.

3. Express Your Concern

Reinforce your care and concern for them. Avoid offering solutions or invalidating their feelings. Phrases like “I’m here for you” can be more supportive than “Think about how your family will feel.”

4. Encourage Professional Help

While being there for them is critical, it’s also important to guide them towards professionals:

  • Therapists or psychologists.
  • Primary care physicians who can provide referrals.
  • Crisis or helplines.

5. Stay Connected

Check in with them regularly. A message or quick call can provide comfort.

6. Avoid Leaving Them Alone

If they’re at immediate risk, try to ensure they aren’t left alone. Encourage them to stay with someone until professional help is sought.

7. Remove Potential Means

If possible, and if it’s appropriate, limit their access to lethal means, including firearms, sharp objects, or certain medications.

8. Educate Yourself

Understanding more about suicide and mental health can empower you to offer better support. Many organizations offer courses and training on this subject.

Resources:

Helping someone who is suicidal requires compassion, patience, and understanding. While it’s crucial to provide personal support, guiding them to professional resources is equally important. If you or someone you know is in crisis, don’t hesitate to seek immediate help, up to and including a call to 911.

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