By Dr. Allen Hume Ph.D., C.D.P.
September is Suicide Prevention Month, which provides us with an opportunity to reflect on those loved ones lost, the impact on families and friends, and most importantly, develop ways to prevent this behavior from happening. Individuals who become suicidal are likely to have a history of mood, anxiety, trauma, and substance use disorders, all of which can contribute to or make the feelings of hopelessness so overwhelming that suicide seems to be the only way out. I am frequently asked by clients, family members, friends, professionals and community members, “What can I do to help stop suicide from happening?” Fortunately, there are many specific things we can do and say to decrease or eliminate the risk of suicide in others, which I will discuss, including resources to seek additional support.
In some cases, when a person is suicidal, they may specifically make threats such as “I am thinking about committing suicide, I want to kill myself, my life isn’t worth living, I hate my life, and I can’t wait until I die,” among other direct statements. Often, however, people who are suicidal don’t report it directly; instead, they begin to think about taking their life on a regular basis, feel and exhibit more depression, mood changes, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness. They may change long-standing routines, increase usage of drugs and/or alcohol, and withdraw from their social and family support network. Family members and friends may notice personality changes, increased complaints about the futility of their situation, giving away of important personal belongings, and making preparations to kill themselves.
When our family members and friends make these comments, we often think they may be venting, just having a bad day, aren’t really serious. We may minimize the risk in our own minds because it is can be so upsetting to hear. I have had many folks ask me, “What if I say something and was wrong? Won’t the person be upset with me, or worse, could I be giving them the idea to kill themselves?” My answer to this understandable question is simple, “We must always take threats of suicide seriously because we may not get another chance.”
So what do you do? First and foremost, do no ignore the warning signs, whether directly stated or indirectly exhibited. In a supportive fashion and with your best listening skills, ask the person direct questions about their feelings and threats, use the words “suicide, kill yourself, or harm yourself” when inquiring about immediacy, plans, and ways they may do it. If the person acknowledges or you think they are suicidal or have made self-harm behaviors, do not leave them alone, call 911, take them to an emergency room if you safely can, contact the crisis clinic in your community and notify family members if possible. At this point, don’t worry if the person who is suicidal is upset with you. By doing these things, you will have the opportunity to resolve any potential conflict in the future.
We have provided a number of resources, websites, contact information, and guidelines below to assist you in helping members of your community to address one of the most distressing of all human experiences. Knowing the resources along with you kindness, concern, ability to hear them, and reaching out could very well be the difference between life and death.
Visit Sound’s Suicide Prevention tools page for downloadable posters and shareable social media materials.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline Resources
- Help Someone Else
- We Can All Prevent Suicide
- Stories of Hope and Recovery
- Mental Health & Suicide Prevention Glossary
If you are in crisis or know someone who is, here are two options for IMMEDIATE, CONFIDENTIAL HELP
— available 24/7 and staffed by trained professionals.