Over the past several years, there has been a growing awareness of the impact of suicide. Celebrities such as Chester Bennington, Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and Robin Williams, all died by suicide within the past 10 years. In 2017, rapper Logic released the song 1-800-273-8255, which brought more awareness not only to the topic of suicide, but to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (now reached by simply dialing “988”).
As awareness continues to grow, so does support for people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Many people who have not experienced suicidal thoughts themselves might wonder, “How can I best support someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts?”
Recognize the Signs of Suicidal Thoughts
First, it is important to recognize the signs. Suicidal thoughts are very private and quite frightening for some individuals to experience. They may be afraid that sharing these thoughts may lead to loss of friendships, overreactions by friends and loved ones, or even hospitalization. This may make individuals hesitant to share their thoughts with their loved ones. The following are some signs that an individual may be experiencing suicidal thoughts:
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Increased use of drugs and/or alcohol
- Giving away important items
- Talking about feelings of guilt, shame, or wanting to die
- Experiencing extreme physical or emotional pain
Ask If They Are Thinking About Suicide
If you notice that a loved one is struggling, it never hurts to ask if they are thinking about suicide. Talking about suicide can allow your loved one to get the help they need. It can be challenging to know how you should approach this topic.
Tips on Starting a Conversation About Suicide
- Show your loved one you care. Let them know what you have noticed about their behavior and express your concern.
- Even though you may not be a trained mental health professional, you can still ask questions to determine what type of help your loved one needs.
- Be direct with your questions. Be non-judgmental. Listen. Do not try to debate with them about the rights and wrongs of suicide. Simply let them know you are here to listen to them and help them get additional support if they need it.
- If your loved one expresses that they are having suicidal thoughts, ask more questions such as whether or not they have a plan for suicide so you can help them to get more support.
- Help your loved one to make a safety plan that includes their warning signs, coping strategies, a list of family, friends, and professional supports that they can contact in crisis, and a plan to keep their environment safe and if necessary, limit access to items they could use to harm themselves.
Resources for Helping Someone with Suicidal Thoughts
- If you are having difficulty taking these steps on your own with your loved one, reach out for support by calling 988, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Trained crisis workers can assist your friend in safety planning and help them to get additional support.
- There are resources available through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline that can provide you more information on how to support someone who is needing help.
- Recommend they see their primary care provider or a mental health provider. CHI Health has options across Nebraska and Southeast Iowa.
Let Them Know You Care and Understand
In conclusion, if a friend or loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, it is important for them to know that there are people who care and understand. The more you know about how to help your loved one through these difficult times, the better you can be a part of helping prevent suicide.