How to Help Someone Who Is Thinking of Suicide

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on May 30, 2017 by Mary Gagnon, LMFT; Health Affiliates Maine

What do you do when someone you love is feeling down? We’ve all been down at some point, and understand when our friends or family feel the same way. Most of us try to take a little extra special care – make them tea, give them a hug, and tell them everything will be okay. 

But what happens when things aren’t okay? What happens when a down mood turns into depression? What happens when your loved one can’t see their way forward, and you are worried they might be thinking of suicide?

Cause for Concern — Most people show some warning signs that they are thinking of suicide. The most concerning sign is when someone communicates in some way that they are thinking about dying or suicide. They may do this verbally or non-verbally (such as by writing about it). Other signs include:

  • Increased substance use
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Feeling purposeless, hopeless, or trapped
  • Anger
  • Recklessness
  • Mood changes
  • Withdrawing from loved ones or activities (such as work, school, or hobbies)

The highest risk groups are males, particularly those ages 45-64 and those over 75. However, younger people (ages 15-24) have a high number of attempts, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for this age group. Although it might be hard to imagine, even younger children can feel like they want to die. Look for mood and behavior changes, including anger or sadness, impulsivity, and play that may have themes of death.

What Can You Do?
Remember, for a person considering suicide, a crisis point has been reached and their pain feels unbearable. However, ambivalence often exists, communicating their distress is common, and they often show you in some way that they are hurting – by expressing their feelings or thoughts or by their behavior. Remember, though, that they might not ask you for help directly. Many people are afraid of what will happen, or they don’t want to upset others. We might even be afraid to ask someone – because we might not know what to do, or we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, or we’re afraid of the answer. We don’t like to see our loved ones hurting, and it’s frightening to think that a loved one might be thinking of ending their lives. However, if you’re worried enough to wonder if they might be thinking about suicide, it’s time to ask. 

You can intervene, and you don’t need any special training to do it. There are three steps:
1) Show you care – tell your loved one what you’re noticing and why you’re concerned. Allow them to talk.
2) Ask the question – ask your loved one “Are you thinking about suicide?” It is hard to do, but important to know. Sometimes, you might be the only person they tell, or they might be relieved that someone finally cared enough to ask. For younger children, ask them in words they will understand – but do ask.
3) Get help – If the answer is yes, don’t leave them alone. Assure them that you will get some support for them, together. 

Getting Help
Several resources are available to you, including:
Statewide Crisis Hotline 1-888-568-1112
Local Crisis Agency
Hospital emergency room staff
Physicians/health care providers
Private mental health clinicians and facilities

Your care and intervention can make a real difference. 

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