Do you know someone who is feeling suicidal? Does someone you love want to end their life? What can you say? What can you do? How can you help them?
If someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are some simple—but profound—things you can do to help. Click on the video below to hear the inspired advice of Andrea Hood, a suicide prevention coordinator for the state of Utah. In this interview, Andrea shares some sage advice on preventing suicide. Scroll down below to see a full transcript of the video.
Learn more about the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition by clicking HERE. Or check out all these other videos from Andrea Hood: How Do I KNOW If Someone Is Suicidal?, The #1 Way to Prevent Suicidal Thoughts, What Do I Do If My Child Is Suicidal?, and How to STOP Thoughts of Suicide.
So, once you know that someone is having thoughts of suicide—you know—you’ve asked them directly or they’ve just come out and said it to you, there’s kind of that moment of: “Oh no. What do I do next? What do I say?” And so, what I’ve found is that, it really is helpful, first, to just kind of acknowledge how much courage it took for that person to be honest with you. Just say: “Thank you for telling me that. That must take a lot of courage to come out with something like that and be honest.”
And also, you can kind of just sit with them for a moment and let them know that you didn’t realize that they were in that much pain. And just kind of acknowledge the pain that they’re in, acknowledge their honesty, and then give them a chance to tell you more about it—instead of jumping the gun and saying: “Okay, I can fix this, you know, I have all these strategies! Here’s my ten step plan to save your life!” That is not what we want to do. So slow down, take a breath, and get more information about how they got there, how long this has been going on, how—you know—if they have a plan and kind of how serious they are about it and whether they’ve started making steps towards that plan.
And so, you want to ask some questions around, you know: “Have you thought about how you would take your life?” And “How did you get here? What’s been going on with you?” Just kind of some questions like that to get them talking so you get more information about it.
And then, it’s very important to get them connected to someone, right? So, this is too much for you, as, you know, a friend, a teacher, or a family member—it’s too much for you to do by yourself. So, really you want to share this with somebody else and encourage them very strongly, in no uncertain terms, that we’re not going to be the only—the only people that are talking about this, right? There needs to be more than just me involved, if they haven’t talked to anyone else. It’s important to get a family member, or a friend involved, and a professional contact involved—like a therapist.
So, a great resource for that is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and that’s 1-800-273-TALK (or 8255). If you call that lifeline, you’ll be connected with someone who can do an evaluation and they can give you, kind of next steps—”What do we do?”—because, at this point, you don’t know if that person really is safe to be left alone, whether they need to go to the emergency department, whether they just need to make that appointment with the therapist as soon as possible—it’s kind of like: “What do we do now?” And so, it’s really good to have that professional consultation available to you 24/7 so that you can kind of figure out what do we do next and how do I keep this person safe.
Another great resource would be an app called MY3 and you can download that and it’ll walk you through how to make a safety plan with that person. And so, you can go through: “What do you do when you’re having thoughts about suicide? And how can you take care of yourself?” And it’s really an empowering process about you have certain coping skills already—social supports, professional resources available to you, and reasons for living whether they’re readily available or apparent to you right now or not, you know, there are those reasons for living there. And so, once you kind of list those thing out, you’re ready for when the next crisis occurs to kind of be empowered to deal with it better on your own. And that really is—because thoughts of suicide are not generally a one-time thing, right? And so, you want to prepared to deal with them on an ongoing basis until, you know, they resolve or until you get the right help to where they’re not as big of an issue anymore.
One other thing to keep in mind, if you’re trying to help someone who’s at risk of suicide—it can be life-saving, in and of itself, to create a safe home environment. So, asking them about firearms and medications may seem kind of awkward, kind of intrusive, it’s difficult to do, but really that, by itself can save a life because if someone has time and distance between them and a means of taking their life then they’re less likely to act impulsively, when those thoughts come up. And so, really, it’s proven effective, you know, over and over again that creating a safe environment works and it’s a simple thing you can do to save a life.
One additional, important thing that you can do, when you’re trying to help someone who is having thoughts of suicide is to get them to talk about their reasons for living. Reasons for living are hard because obviously that person, you know, is in a really dark place and they’re not readily seeing those reasons for living, but we know from research that most people who are having thoughts of suicide are ambivalent, up until the time they take the action, or they make an attempt. They’re going back and forth, they’re really distressed because there is a part of them that wants to live. They just want the pain that they’re in to end—or they want to find a solution to a problem that doesn’t seem to have any solution.
And so, if we can, you know, start asking questions about things like: important people in their lives, or, you know, goals that they want to accomplish, or things that have brought them purpose or joy in the past, and maybe, you know, get them talking about what those reasons for living could be in the future. The research shows that that’s a really powerful way to change their mood state, to help them move through that point of crisis and have hope again. And so really, it’s a simple thing, but it’s a really powerful thing.
So, honestly, a part of it is just showing that person that you care about them. Just, you know, if they’ve disclosed this really personal, important thing to you—it’s important to take the time to listen to them without becoming over emotional yourself and just be there, with them, physically for as long as it takes and sometimes that’s the most powerful thing you can do—is just be a physical presence. Spend time with them. Check up on them after they’ve had the opportunity to get help after the immediate crisis is resolved, because it shows that you still care and often it takes some time, and some trial and error to find help if you’re having issues with a mental health condition, or if you’re in a crisis. It’s not going to be resolved immediately, and so checking in on that person is really important.
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