Suicide is one of the first leading causes of death in the United States. People often feel alone and isolated when going through these feelings due to shame and stigma around mental illness. This month is National Suicide Prevention Month, and oftentimes, it is difficult to reach out for help when a person is suffering from suicidal thoughts or ideation. I know this personally because I have been there, too.
Starting in first grade all the way through my high school graduation, I was severely bullied. I was called names, made fun of, bullied online, and even told to kill myself multiple times. Around my sophomore year of high school, I could not take the pain any longer and attempted to end my life. After that incident, I reached out to my friend, and she helped me make an appointment with a therapist and psychiatrist. As my life went on, things improved some, however, they also went downhill when my parents divorced. That was going into my senior year of college, just under a year ago. Finally, I got serious about my mental health. I knew that if I wanted to be happy and continue living, I needed to really put myself out there and get support.
I went into treatment early December 2017, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Since then, I have been in and out of treatment, having really good days as well as really bad days. I am so grateful for the support that I have received this far in my life. Mental illness is no joke, and reaching out for help can save lives. My friend who told me it might be time to seek professional help quite honestly saved my life. She was a former youth leader of mine, and while it was hard to hear that I needed to seek therapy, I ended up getting the help I needed after a great deal of denial.
Showing up for your friends and loved ones is so important, and it can often be the lifeline for that person. However, it is not always an easy task to support someone in crisis. In offering support to a person who is suffering from suicidal thoughts or ideation, there are five steps that can be helpful in supporting them. They include: asking, keeping the person safe, being there, helping the person connect, and following up.
Asking. If you suspect a friend or loved one is considering suicide, don’t hesitate to reach out to them. Suicide is a tough subject that isn’t talked about enough, but there is never any harm in asking. If you are hesitant about asking due to the possibility of triggering the person and causing them to become suicidal, the chances of you asking will not necessarily increase their thoughts. Through asking about suicide, it shows that you are coming from a place of non-judgmental caring, and through being straightforward with the person, it may help them feel comfortable and open up more. As I said before, asking about someone’s wellbeing, as well as just being there to listen to what they are going through, might just save their life.
Keeping them safe. Once you’ve asked the person you are concerned about if they are considering suicide and they respond ‘yes,’ the next step is to help keep them safe. Any action to keep them safe is key in this step, whether it be having them stay with you for a while, going to their house to check in, or worst case scenario, taking them to a hospital are all great options. As well as looking out for this person, make sure that they do not have a way to harm themselves. It is important to do what we call a risk assessment, asking the person if they have a specific plan on how they would end their lives, if they have what they would need to complete it, and if they have a specific timeframe in mind. Again, this may seem scary, but you are doing the right thing by being there and supporting them.
Being there. Being there for a friend or loved one experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideation is one of the best things that you can do. Simply telling the person that you care and are there for them will mean more to them than they can express. It may seem like they do not want support at first, but you are showing them that you truly care, and again, that can be a life-changer for that person. Whether it is physically being there for the person, talking to them over the phone until they have calmed down a little, or finding other ways to be there, as we will touch on in the next point, whatever you do is helpful.
Help them connect. It is so important to help a person considering suicide connect to positive resources around them. Just like my former youth leader did for me, she suggested I seek help. While she did not live in the same state at that time, she still reached out to me through the phone and helped me find resources, even from afar, including outpatient therapy, and other formal resources. There are so many helpful resources, and they are all just an internet search away. One of the most important resources is the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, which has people to talk to 24/7, and you can reach them at 988.
Follow up. Following up to see how a friend or loved one is after expressing their thoughts of suicide is needed more than you may think. Following up shows a person that you care about them by checking back in with them. Ask them if the connections you have helped them make have been helpful, and continue to send encouraging text messages, or even call them every so often to check in on them. Checking in with a person considering suicide increases the chance of them opening up and trusting you to help support them in times of need.
These five steps can help you reach out and support a person going through a difficult time. If you are the person considering suicide, I strongly encourage you to reach out. I don’t know you or what you’re going through, but I do absolutely know how you feel. It is such a terrifying place to be in, but please know that you are not alone in this. There are people who care about you, and you were put on this earth for a specific purpose that no one else can fulfill. Seeking help is a challenge, no doubt, but you are worth the time and attention. You matter.