Have you ever felt worried or concerned about the safety of a close friend or loved one because that person has mentioned feeling too overwhelmed about life? Unfortunately, many of us can answer yes to this question. What can we do? September is National Suicide Prevention Month so here is some basic information about suicide and what you can do to help prevent it.
Can Suicide Be Prevented?
Suicide is preventable. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, “there is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.” Most people who are contemplating death by suicide desperately want to live; they are just unable to see alternatives to manage certain situations.
How Can You Help?
Suicidal behavior occurs regardless of gender, race, age, or marital status. Get involved and make yourself available. It’s important to show interest and support while also being direct about your concerns. Talk openly about suicide without judgment. Be willing to listen and allow for expression of feelings. By managing your reactions, you can avoid debating whether suicide is right or wrong, whether this individual’s feelings are good or bad, and stay focused on showing empathy. And while this tactic may seem difficult, feel empowered to work with the person to remove any means that may be used to follow through on a suicidal threat. In the end, you’re working to offer hope that alternatives are available.
In contrast, there are also some steps you can avoid that may counter your efforts to restore hope. Don’t dare the person to do it or give advice by telling someone to behave differently. Stay away from asking why as this question may leave the individual feeling defensive. And most importantly, don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seeking additional support can be hard enough, and doing so while breaking a promise can leave you feeling as though you have to navigate this space alone.
If you’re like us, you appreciate hearing some of the language that has helped others navigate these conversations. Here are some phrases and thoughts you can adapt for your own use:
“It sounds like you have a lot going on right now, and it makes sense that you are feeling overwhelmed.”
“I want to thank you for sharing with me about how you are feeling today. I am concerned about you and want to help keep you safe.”
“Can you tell me what specific thoughts you are having about harming or hurting yourself?”
“When was the last time you made any action on those thoughts?”
“Have you attempted to hurt yourself in the past, if so, how?”
“Do you currently have access to (method of suicide) now?”
Myths, Facts and Risk Factors
Myth: mentioning suicide may give a person the idea.
Fact: People contemplating death by suicide already have the idea. Talking about it can help prevent a person from acting on those thoughts.
Myth: The only effective intervention for death by suicide comes from a professional with extensive experience.
Fact: Anyone who interacts with a person who may be contemplating death by suicide can help them by way of emotional support and encouragement.
Myth: People who are threatening with death by suicide are just seeking attention.
Fact: All attempts of death by suicide must be treated as though the person has the intent to die.
Factors that may increase risk include: current alcohol/substance use, mental health diagnosis, hopelessness, recent loss, current plan, previous attempts, poor impulse control, and access to means.
Factors that may decrease risk include: spirituality, positive social support, sense of responsibility to family, children in the home/pregnancy, life satisfaction, positive coping, and problem-solving skills.
Don’t Forget About Inner Strength
Keep in mind: this person is going through only one moment in time in their life. Many of us have been in situations when we feel overwhelmed and worried about not finding a solution to a problem or situation. The fear of the unknown is valid. We are trying to figure out how to move forward and get the support we need to get through the situation.
Harness the person’s inner strength when encountering this type of situation. Having the courage to reach out and share what is going on demonstrates their resiliency and desire to live. Talking about the reality of the issues can help your loved one feel supported, reminding them that they are not alone while they try to figure out other options to address their needs. In the end, this support can be a major factor in restoring hope, which is one of the main goals when supporting someone who might be struggling or contemplating death by suicide.
Lupita Lance, Student Advocate, Ashford University
Johnny Barner, Student Advocate, Ashford University
National Crisis Hotline is available 24 hours per day if you need any extra support or to talk about the stresses you are dealing with. Call 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255) or go online for additional support.
The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans’ Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Please call 1 800 273-TALK (8255) then press 1 or text 838255.
I’m Alive (an online crisis network) is the first online network with 100% of its volunteers trained and certified in crisis intervention.
About Suicide — AFSP. (2017). AFSP. Retrieved 22 September 2017, from https://afsp.org/about-suicide/
Creating Safe Scenes Training Course | SAMHSA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Samhsa.gov. Retrieved 22 September 2017, from https://www.samhsa.gov/dtac/creating-safe-scenes-training
Handling Suicidal Threats. Retrieved 22 September 2017, from https://www.voaww.org/pdf_files/handling-suicidal-threats
Understanding Suicide. Retrieved 22 September 2017, from https://www.voaww.org/pdf_files/understanding-suicide