September is National Suicide Prevention Month in the U.S. In honor of this month, we’ll share resources and highlight ways that everyone can make a difference in the life of a suicidal teen or adult. In this post, we’ll offer five practical steps you can take if you know someone is contemplating suicide.
Please read our first article in the series, Suicide Prevention Month: When It Comes to Suicide, We Can All Save a Life, which contains helpful information about suicide and suicide prevention from a police officer with years of experience helping people live through suicide-related crisis moments.
The Five Steps: How to Help Someone Considering Suicide
This article compiles and shares information published by the website #BThe1To, which is dedicated to helping prevent suicide among people of all ages. This year, they compiled a list of five effective action steps – all supported by reliable scientific research and data – that you can take if someone you know is contemplating suicide.
When Someone You Know Is Talking About Suicide: Five Steps to Take
1. Talk to them about it.
Ask them the direct question: “Are you thinking about suicide?” Evidence shows that simply being asked this question can reduce suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. And after you ask, listen to what they say – with empathy and without judgment.
2. Keep them safe.
If you find out they’re thinking about suicide and they have a plan, one effective thing you can do for them is to ensure they don’t have access to the means or location involved in their plan. Evidence shows that keeping time and distance between the person and the elements of their plan – especially firearms and medication – reduces the chances they’ll follow through with the plan. Recent research debunks the myth that “if someone wants to kill themselves they’ll find a way.” Studies show that if access to lethal means is limited, suicide incidence is likely to decrease.
3. Be there.
This can mean physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Evidence shows that feeling connected to other people reduces suicide risk. If someone is in immediate risk, you should stay with them, of course. And if they’re in immediate risk and you’re not with them, you should call 911. The kind of being there we’re talking about right now, though, also means something else. It means you don’t have to be there in person. If you reach out with kindness and compassion – i.e. if you’re there for them psychologically and emotionally – you can not only reduce suicide incidence, but also reduce suicidal ideation, which can lead to suicide attempts.
4. Help them get help.
First, you can help them develop a safety plan to implement if they start feeling significant and severe thoughts of suicide. The first part of the plan needs to include people to call when things get difficult or overwhelming. Make sure they have your phone number and let them know you can call anytime, day or night. Next, share the online, phone, and text resources we provide at the end of this post. Research shows that these hotlines work. They help people feel less alone, less depressed, and less overwhelmed. And by the end of a call with a trained suicide intervention counselor, many people in crisis feel less suicidal.
5. Follow up.
The kind of emotional issues that lead to suicidal ideation and suicide attempts do not magically go away by themselves. In addition to professional support, the support of peers and friends is essential. Once you make contact and establish yourself as a supportive friend and ally, follow up on that role. Reach out to your friend after your initial conversation. Do it regularly. Text, instant message, leave a voicemail, have an actual phone conversation, or make plans and see them in person. Effort on your part can make a big difference for someone living with suicidal ideation. And yes – one phone call can save a life.
Resources for Parents, Teens, and Friends
There’s a wealth of online resources to help people who are considering or at risk of suicide. You and the family of your friend or loved one who may be contemplating suicide are the first line of support. If you determine risk and harm is not imminent, but you’re still concerned, then it’s time to seek out professional help.
You can find a qualified professional in your area with this psychiatrist finder provided by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. In addition, in all cases, teens, adults, or anyone who needs help can call or text the following numbers:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24/7/365): 1-800-273-8255
- The Trevor Project Phone (24/7/365): 1-866-488-7386
- Trevor Project Text (7 days/wk, 6am-am ET, 3am-10pm PT): Text START to 678678
- The Trevor Project Chat: CLICK HERE
- The Crisis Text Line (24/7/365): Text CONNECT to 741741
- The Youth Yellow Pages TEEN LINE (6pm-10pm PT) 310-855-4673
- The Youth Yellow Pages TEXT: Text TEEN to 839863
IMPORTANT: IF YOU DETERMINE YOUR TEEN/LOVED ONE/FRIEND/PEER IS IN CRISIS OR AT IMMINENT RISK, CALL 911 OR GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM IMMEDIATELY.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.