Heres How To Safely Support Someone Who Is Suicidal

Key takeaways:

* People experiencing suicidal thoughts may talk openly about them or choose to hide them from others. Knowing the signs of suicidal behavior is important for recognizing a person in distress.

* When a person shares suicidal thoughts, you can use active listening skills to express understanding and support. If a person states they have a plan for suicide, encourage them to get help or get emergency care for them if they refuse.

* The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is available 24/7 to offer help to people in crisis. They also can assist you with any questions or concerns about helping a loved one with suicidal ideation.

nensuria//iStock via Getty Images PlusSuicide is a leading cause of death in the U.S. It affects people of all ages, genders, races, and sexual orientations. Knowing how to respond when someone expresses thoughts of suicide can help prevent it.

When some thinks about ending their own life, it’s referred to as suicidal ideation or suicidal thoughts. There are varying degrees of suicidal ideation. Some people may think about death but have no plan or desire to follow through. Other people may have a plan to kill themselves and intention to carry it out.

When someone you know expresses suicidal thoughts, it can be very scary. So, it is important to take suicidal ideation seriously and take appropriate action.

Read on to learn about the warning signs of suicide, what to do when someone shares suicidal thoughts, and resources for further help.

What are signs of suicidal behavior?
A person experiencing suicidal thoughts may or may not reveal they are struggling. They may worry that other people will not understand, not care, or be unable to help. They may also fear that if they are honest, they will be forced to get help or that it will change how other people think about them.

Because a person may not tell you they are feeling suicidal, you should also be aware of the signs of suicidal behavior — actions that may mean your loved one is thinking about death.

Possible warning signs include:

* Talking about death or taking an interest in suicide

* Having mood swings

* Using more drugs or alcohol than usual

* Expressing hopelessness

* Putting themselves in dangerous situations

* Saying that they feel like a burden to others

* Sleeping more or less than usual

* Isolating from other people

* Withdrawing from activities or hobbies they once enjoyed

What should you do if someone tells you they have suicidal thoughts?
If a person expresses suicidal thoughts to you, listen and give nonjudgmental support. Active listening is a helpful tool for supporting a person with suicidal thoughts.

The parts of active listening include:

* Acknowledge: Show that you are listening to what the person is saying through nonverbal gestures, like head nodding and making eye contact. Remove any distractions and try to focus on the person.

* Respond: Make statements in response to what the person has said or ask questions for clarity. This signals to the person that you are listening and interested in what they have to say.

* Summarize: Repeat a summary of what the person has said. For example, “It sounds like you felt very hurt when he said that.” This also conveys understanding and helps the person to feel less alone.

When someone shares thoughts of suicide, you can also ask, “How can I help?” Instead of assuming that you know what they need, allow them to tell you how you can support them.

If they can’t answer the question, you can offer to help them:

* Connect with a crisis line

* Find a treatment provider

* Create a safety plan

* Brainstorm other actions that might be helpful

What do you do if someone says they want to end their life now?
If someone says they want to end their life now, ask if they have a plan for when they want to kill themselves. If they have a plan, take action right away. Do not leave the person alone. Stay with them until you can be sure they are safe.

When a person expresses suicidal ideation, encourage them to contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. They can call or text the Lifeline and speak with a trained professional who can offer support and help find what actions should be taken. The Lifeline is a free, confidential service and is available 24/7. You can also offer to take them to the nearest emergency room.

If a person already has a mental health provider, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist, they can be contacted as well. However, many providers do not offer emergency coverage.

It is important to first give your loved one an opportunity to get help voluntarily. If they refuse and you feel their safety is at risk, call a mobile crisis unit, take them to the nearest ER, or call 911 and stay with them until emergency help arrives.

If someone reveals to you they are feeling suicidal over text, take their statements seriously and follow the same procedures above.

Dos and don’ts when helping someone who is suicidal
When it comes to helping a person who is suicidal, DO:

* Stay with the person until you can make sure that they are safe

* Remove any dangerous objects from the environment

* Listen and express empathy

* Remind them to refer to their safety plan if they have one

* Encourage them to call or text * Offer to help them find a treatment provider or support group

When it comes to helping a person who is suicidal, DON’T:

* Ignore the problem

* Change the subject

* Leave the person alone

* Judge or blame the person for what they are feeling

* Express anger or other emotions that could cause the person more stress

Other mental health resources for help with suicidal thoughts
For help finding a treatment provider, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at HELP (4357). The Helpline is open 24/7 and can provide assistance with referrals for treatment. You can also visit the online Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to search local providers in your area.

Other resources available for help with suicidal thoughts include:

* Crisis Text Line: The Crisis Text Line allows you to text with a crisis counselor 24/7. You can contact the text line by texting “home” to . You can also chat with a crisis counselor through WhatsApp.

* Veterans Crisis Line: This is a crisis support hotline for veterans and their families. You can contact the Veterans Crisis Line by calling 988 and pressing 1. You can also text or chat online at any time. You do not need to be enrolled with VA benefits to access the Crisis Line.

* The Trevor Project: The Trevor project provides a confidential crisis line for LGBTQ youth in need of support. You can contact the crisis line by calling . You can also text “start” to or chat online 24/7.

* Trans Lifeline: This is a peer support hotline for trans and questioning people in crisis or in need of someone to talk to. To contact the Trans Lifeline, call in the U.S. or in Canada.

* Teen Line: A peer support line for teens experiencing anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and loneliness. The Teen Line can be reached at and is open from 6PM to 10PM PST, 7 days a week. You can also text “teen” to during the same hours.

The bottom line
Suicide is a serious concern and should always be taken seriously. If someone expresses suicidal thoughts to you, use active listening, ask how you can help, and take action if your loved one is at risk of acting on their thoughts.

If you have any questions or concerns about how to handle a specific situation, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. They can assist you in responding in a supportive and safe manner.

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. (n.d.). Help someone else.

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. (n.d.). Home.

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