September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and this year, we’re also in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s more important than ever to know the signs and know what to do if someone you know is having suicidal thoughts.
For immediate care, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). These services are free and available 24/7.
Signs & Symptoms
Know the warning signs of suicidality so that you can recognize them early on. If you identify warning signs, take the actions outlined below.
- Wanting to die
- Killing themselves
- Feeling empty, hopeless, or without reason to live
- Feeling guilt and/or shame
- Not being able to find solutions
- Being a burden to others
- Increased drug or alcohol use
- Acting anxious/agitated
- Making a plan (such as stockpiling medications or getting a gun)
- Changes in diet or sleep
- Rage or revenge
- Risk taking, impulsive behaviors
- Feeling intense physical or emotional pain
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Experiencing and displaying extreme mood swings
- Giving important possessions away
- Telling friends and family goodbye
- Making a will or paying off debts
There is no single cause of suicide, but there are several factors that may put someone at an increased risk. Be aware of the following circumstances:
- Family history of suicide
- Substance use
- Access to firearms
- Severe or chronic mental illness
- History of trauma or abuse
- Prolonged stress
- Recent tragedy or loss
- Chronic pain
- Certain medical conditions
- Prior suicide attempt
- Recent release from prison or jail
What You Can Do
The following five action steps are provided by #BeTheOneTo. Go here to read the full steps. You can be the one to:
Ask them if they are thinking about suicide. Research shows that this will not increase suicidal thoughts. Rather, it shows that you’re open to speaking about suicide non-judgmentally. You can also ask them how they’re hurting, or how you can help. Once you ask, be sure to listen. Then, help them focus on their reasons to stay alive.
Being there for someone can mean being physically present, but it doesn’t have to; a phone or video call, for example, is another way to be there for someone. When possible, explore virtual options for connection during COVID-19. Make sure you follow through on what you commit to. It’s important to increase connectedness with others when individuals are feeling suicidal. Even though this may be more challenging during the pandemic, it IS possible to still stay connected.
Keep Them Safe
The next thing you need to do is establish immediate safety of the individual. Have they already taken any actions before talking to you? Do they have a plan for how they would kill themselves? How specific/detailed is it? Is there a timeline? Do they have access to the means to follow through with their plan?
These are difficult questions to ask, but they’re important, as they establish the severity of the problem. With more pieces in place, the higher risk an individual may be at. Putting time and distance between the individual and their intended means of suicide is of the utmost importance.
Help Them Connect
Once you’ve established their immediate safety, help them get connected to a larger support network. They should establish a safety net for if or when they are in crisis again. Check with them about current supports or establishing new ones. Are they connected to a mental health professional, or have they been in the past? Why or why not? Can they get connected again, or are there other resources available?
Don’t just leave it at one interaction. Be sure to follow up later and see how the individual is doing. Check in to see if there is anything else you can help with, or if they would like to talk again. Ongoing support like this will help the individual reach the goal of connectedness.
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