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Several years ago, I was in a pretty dark place. Even by all outside appearances, I should be happy. At least happy enough not to be feeling suicidal. But there I was, thinking about how much better it would be if I were gone and that constant pain inside me was gone.

Having thoughts like this is very scary. I didn’t really want to die, I just wanted the pain to go away so I could be “normal”.

Having suffered from depression and a few failed suicide attempts myself, I understand the struggle in one’s head to make things better by ending their life. But thankfully, this last time, I said something to someone. It was an outreach for help. To give someone the opportunity to care about me enough to push me to get my own help.

Sounds silly, right? It’s kind of a passive, passive way to ask for help. It doesn’t exactly feel like we’re asking for help when we talk about it to someone else. But if the right person is listening, that’s exactly what they will do. Help you. Let’s stop the stigma and talk about suicide.

Understanding Suicide

The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 million people die each year from suicide. For someone who’s not in the wrath of deep depression and despair, it can be very difficult to understand. The best way I can put it so that someone can understand is that a suicidal person is in so much pain that he or she can see no other option and they’ve lost all hope of actually being able to feel better.

feeling suicidal

Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape the suffering that has become unbearable. This person is completely blinded by feelings of hopelessness and isolation and they can’t see any way to find relief except by death. But despite the desire to end the pain, they are deeply conflicted about ending their own lives. They wish for an alternative to suicide, but they just can’t see one.

Warning Signs to Look For

Most people who are feeling suicidal give warning signs or signals of their intentions. A great way that we can prevent suicide is to recognize the warning signs and react appropriately if you spot them. You can play a crucial role in preventing suicide.

Suicide Warning Signs Include:

  • Talking about suicide – If they talk about suicide, death, or self-harm. It can sound like “I wish I’d never been born” “I’d be better off dead” and “If I see you again.”
  • Seeking out deadly means – A suicidal person may try to get access to guns, pills, knives or any other object that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  • Preoccupation with death – They have an unusual focus on death, dying or violence. Their obsession is all around death. They are writing poems or stories about death.
  • No hope for the future – They express feelings of hopelessness, hopelessness and being trapped. “There’s no other way” “Or the pain will never stop.” They have a belief that things will never get better or change.
  • Getting affairs in order – They finalize a will and start giving away prized possessions and making arrangements for family members.
  • Saying goodbye – If they start making unusual or unexpected visits or calls to family and friends. Suicidal people say goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.
  • Withdrawing from others – They withdraw from friends and family, increase isolation and want to be left alone.
  • Self-destructive behavior – Suicidal people tend to increase alcohol or drug use, exhibit reckless driving, and have unsafe sex. They seem to be taking unnecessary risks as if they have a “death wish.”
  • A sudden sense of calm – A majorly depressed person who has a sudden sense of calm and happiness can mean that they have made the decision to attempt suicide.

These signals can be even more dangerous if the person has a mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder, suffers from alcoholism, has previously attempted suicide, or has a family history of suicide.

Ways you can prevent suicide

Ways You Can Help Prevent Suicide

1. Speak Up

If you spot any of these warning signs in someone you care for, you may wonder if it’s really a good idea to say something. Of course, it’s natural to feel uncomfortable or afraid. But if your friend is showing these signs, they need immediate help.

If you’re unsure if someone is feeling suicidal the best way to find out is to ask. You can’t make a person suicidal by showing that you care. Just the opposite. If you give the suicidal person the opportunity to express their feeling that can provide a tremendous relief from the loneliness, pent-up negative feelings, and it could even prevent a suicide attempt.

How to start a conversation about suicide:

“I’ve been really concerned about you lately.”

“Recently, I’ve noticed some differences in you and I’m wondering how you’re doing?”

“You haven’t been yourself lately and I wanted to check in with you to see how you are holding up.”

Questions you could ask:

“When did you begin feeling like this?”

“Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?”

“How can I support you?”

“What can I do to help?”

“Have you considered getting help?

What you could say to help:

“You’re not alone, I’m here for you.”

“I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.”

The Do’s and Dont’s of talking to a suicidal person.

Do:

  • Be yourself. Let them know that you care and they’re not alone.
  • Listen. Let them unload all their feelings. No matter how negative the conversation goes, the fact it’s happening is a positive thing.
  • Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm and accepting. Your friend is doing a courageous thing by talking about their feelings.
  • Offer hope. Reassure them that help is available and that these feelings are temporary. Let them know their life is important to you.
  • Take the person seriously. If they say things like, “I can’t deal with this pain, I can’t go on.” Ask the question, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You’re not putting ideas in their head, you’re showing that you are concerned, that you take them seriously and that it’s ok for them to share their pain with you.

Don’t:

  • Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying something like, “You have so much to live for,” “Your suicide will hurt your family,” “Look on the bright side,” or “Suicide is selfish.”
  • Act shocked, lecture on the value of life, or say that suicide is wrong.
  • Promise confidentiality. Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake here and you may need to speak with a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise secrecy, you may have to break your word. You need to build trust here.
  • Offer ways to fix their problems. Don’t offer fixes, give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It’s not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting them.
  • Blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness or lack thereof is not your responsibility.

Respond in a crisis

2. Respond quickly in a crisis.

If your loved one is thinking about suicide, it’s important to evaluate the immediate danger they are in. Those who are at the highest risk in the very near future have a plan, the means to carry out the plan, a time to do it and an intention to do it.

You can ask these questions to determine the immediate risk for suicide.

Do you have a suicide plan?

What do you plan to use to carry out this plan (pills, guns, etc.), do you have this item?

When would you do it?

Do you intend to take your own life?

The following are the levels of Suicide Risk

Low – Some suicidal thoughts. No plan. They say they won’t attempt suicide.

Moderate – Suicidal thoughts. A vague plan that isn’t very lethal. Says he or she won’t attempt suicide.

High – Suicidal thoughts. A specific plan that is highly lethal. Says he or she won’t attempt suicide.

Severe – Suicidal thoughts. A specific plan that is highly lethal. Says he or she will attempt suicide.

If a suicide attempt seems imminent, call a crisis center, dial 9-1-1, or take the person to an emergency room. Remove any weapons, drugs or other potentially lethal objects and do not, under any circumstances, leave them alone.

Suicide Crisis Lines in the U.S.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Suicide prevention telephone hotline funded by the U.S. government. Provides free, 24-hour assistance. 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

National Hopeline Network – Toll-free telephone number offering 24-hour suicide crisis support. 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433). (National Hopeline Network)

The Trevor Project – Crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Includes a 24/7 hotline: 1-866-488-7386.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline – Free, confidential 24/7 helpline information service for substance abuse and mental health treatment referral. 1-800-662-HELP (4357). (SAHMSA)

Suicide Crisis Lines Worldwide

Crisis Centers in Canada – Locate suicide crisis centers in Canada by province. (Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention)

IASP – Find crisis centers and helplines around the world. (International Association for Suicide Prevention).

International Suicide Hotlines – Find a helpline in different countries around the world. (Suicide.org)

Befrienders Worldwide – International suicide prevention organization connects people to crisis hotlines in their country. (Befrienders Worldwide)

Samaritans UK – 24-hour suicide support for people in the UK and Republic of Ireland (call 116 123). (Samaritans)

Lifeline Australia – 24-hour suicide crisis support service at 13 11 14. (Lifeline Australia)

support a suicidal friend

3. Offer Help and Support.

The best thing you can do to help someone who is suicidal is by offering an empathetic, listening ear. Let them know they’re not alone, but don’t take responsibility for making them better.

You can offer support, but you can’t make them get better, that is up to them to make the personal commitment to recovery.

It takes courage to help someone who is suicidal. Witnessing someone who is struggling with thoughts of ending their life can stir up many difficult emotions.

As you’re helping a suicidal person, don’t forget to take care of yourself and get the support you may need.

To Help a Person Who is Feeling Suicidal

Get Professional Help.

Do everything you can to get the suicidal person the help they need. Call a crisis line for advice or referral. Encourage the person to see a mental health professional, help locate a treatment facility or take them to a doctor’s appointment.

Follow-up on treatment.

If they are prescribed medication, make sure your friend is taking this as directed. Be aware of side effects and notify the physician if things seem to be getting worse.

Be proactive.

People who are contemplating suicide often don’t believe they can be helped. You may need to be more proactive at offering them help. Saying, “Call me if you need anything” is too broad. Don’t wait for them to call you or even return calls. Call again, drop by, and invite them out with you.

Encourage healthy lifestyle

Encourage positive lifestyle changes.

Like a healthy diet, sleep, and getting out in the sun. Exercise is also extremely important as it releases endorphins, relieves stress and helps with emotional well-being.

Make a safety plan.

Help your friend come up with a set of steps they promise to follow during a suicidal crisis. Make sure to identify any triggers that could initiate a crisis, like an anniversary of a loss, alcohol, or stress from relationships.

Include contact numbers for their doctor or therapist, as well as family or friends that will help in an emergency.

Remove potential means of suicide.

Get rid of pills, knives, razors, or guns. If this person is likely to overdose, keep medications locked up and only give out what they need as they need them.

Continue support over the long haul.

Even after the immediate suicide crisis has passed, stay in touch with them. Check-in periodically to see how they are doing. Your support will ensure your friend remains on the road to recovery.

Conclusion

Helping someone whom you think may be suicidal can be a tricky task. After reading this post you should have a better understanding of how you can be supportive and ask the right questions to help a friend.

If you have any thoughts to add to the discussion on suicide awareness, please share them in the comments below.

In honor of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month (September) please share this post with others to spread the awareness.

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6 Comments

  1. Great article Kirsten, and thanks for sharing your experience & some good clear resources. I used to work with suicidal youth which has become an increasing issue in our society. They very often felt extremely alone & misunderstood & UNSEEN. Helping young people feel significant & like they belong & have value, and allowing them to be who they are without trying to shape or mould them is so important. Many people who are suicidal also have trauma in their history & go completely out of their bodies/disconnect which is when they are most vulnerable. So teaching them mindfulness & grounding can also be super helpful 🙂

  2. Hi Kirsten
    Thank you for all this valuable information. I have a friend who committed suicide four years ago. He tried a few times before but failed.
    The part in your article about the sudden sense of calm made me realize if I knew this then, I would have seen the signs. He was so calm and relaxed the week before. Said everything is going great and couldn’t be better. (Which he never did – everything was always wrong, negative or just not working out). I truly thought he found inner peace.
    Thank you
    Blessings
    Linda

  3. Wow! You have done an excellent job of tackling a very difficult subject. This is the most thorough and well thought out post I have ever read about this. I am going to share it and bookmark it as a resource to return to again and again. In this world of constantly hearing of more and more suicides, everyone is searching for ways to help and what to do about it but it is so very difficult. You have laid out a clear and practical path for people looking for these answers about how they can help. As a mom who did lose my precious son to suicide years ago, I thank you for sharing this.

    1. My condolences for your son. Hopefully, we can spread awareness so we can reduce the number of suicides. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this.

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