How To Help Someone Who Is Suicidal

By Kimberly Zapata

Did you know that 44,000 people die by suicide each year? Did you know that for every completed suicide there are 25 other attempts? 25. And did you know that while these numbers may make the “suicide survival” rate seem high, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States?

According to Healthversed, suicide kills more people than Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, renal disease, and hypertension.

Of course, the obvious question is what can we — as a society — do to prevent suicide? How can we help those who are suffering, and what can we do to help someone who is “in danger?” Who is suicidal. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t clear-cut, nor is simple, and abstract notions about suicide prevention (i.e. learning about suicide and understanding suicide) are hardly applicable in “the moment.”

They are pointless when your friend tells you they’ve lost the will to live or when a family member, colleague, or complete stranger posts an alarming status — like “you’ll be sorry when I’m gone” or “I can’t see any way out” — on Facebook, Instagram, and/or other corners the internet. But how should you handle a suicidal threat?

How do you know if what you’ve heard (or read) is a joke, a cry for attention, OR a suicidal threat?

Well, the truth is you don’t because there is “suicide guidebook.” There is no “suicide rulebook,” and since “final straws” vary from person-to-person — and from situation-to-situation — all threats of suicide should be reviewed. They should be addressed, and they should be taken seriously.

You should never, ever ignore a “warning sign” or take a suicidal threat lightly.

For Someone Who Appears Stable But Is Raising Red Flags

If you think someone you know is contemplating suicide, speak up. Reach out. Offer help.

  1. Talk to them
  2. Listen to them
  3. Acknowledge their feelings, i.e. “things must really be awful if you are feeling that way; you must be in a lot of pain”
  4. Be sympathetic, empathetic, and non-judgmental
  5. Tell them you love them/care about them
  6. Remind them you are there for them
  7. Ask about suicide, i.e. do they have a plan (a means, a when, and the intention)
  8. Ask how you can help
  9. Encourage them to seek outside help/treatment
    1. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
    2. Text TALK to 741741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line
    3. Contact their doctor or therapist

For Someone In Imminent Or Immediate Danger

If someone you know has expressed a serious desire to die or has explicitly stated they are considering suicide/have a plan, you should talk to them. Stay with them, if possible. Help them get help, i.e. escort them to an emergency room and/or put them in contact with someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).

In cases of imminent or immediate danger, call 911.

For Someone Online/On Social Media

Many social media channels now allow you to report alarming, threatening, and/or suicidal content. This can be done by visiting any of the following links:

Make no mistake: not every threat will result in a suicide attempt, and many who do make attempts on their lives do not want to die. They simply want to stop hurting; they just want to make the “shit stop.” However, suicide threats should always be taken seriously.

Always.

The risk is just too great: it is better to be safe (and alive) than sorry.

The information in this article is one person’s opinion, and is not intended to act as — or replace — medical advice. For more information about suicide awareness and prevention, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

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