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How to Help Someone Who is Suicidal

Suicide can be prevented. As family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors, when it comes to keeping the people we care about safe, we all have a role to play in our communities. It can be intimidating to talk about suicide or ask individuals about what they are going through. The more we are aware of and understand suicide, suicide prevention, and mental health, the more we can do to help save lives.

How to Tell If Someone is Suicidal

We often do not want to believe a loved one could be suicidal. Most times, individuals will exhibit multiple signs of suicide. “It is important to work together as a community to help save lives, and one of the best ways to help is to ask someone if they are feeling suicidal and then be available to listen to whatever your loved one needs in that moment,” says Dr. Helen Littrell, Diversus Health Suicide Prevention Coordinator and Clinician.

Here is a list of signs of suicide that may be helpful to look out for in the people you care about:

Signs of Suicide:
  • Talking or writing about death or suicide; making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I was dead,” or “I wish I hadn’t been born.”
  • Expressing feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation.
  • Exhibiting dramatic mood shifts or changes, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next.
  • Withdrawing from loved ones and society or wanting to be left alone.
  • Seeking access to the means to kill themself, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills.
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Behaving recklessly, participating in risky or self-destructive behavior, such as using drugs or driving erratically.
  • Developing personality changes, seeking revenge, or expressing uncontrollable rage.
  • Experiencing anxiety or agitation, unable to self-soothe or calm down.
  • Sleeping constantly or experiencing insomnia.
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying, or violence.
  • Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing so.

It can be upsetting to hear someone say they are thinking about or considering suicide. You may be unsure of what to do or how to help. You may worry whether you should take talk of suicide seriously or be concerned if your intervention might make the situation worse. It is always the best choice to take action and take expressions of suicidal ideation seriously, as opposed to dismissing suicidal talk and ideations.

“The goal is for anyone who feels suicidal to be able to openly talk about it in a non-judgmental space and receive appropriate care,” says Dr. Littrell.

Start by Asking Questions

The first step to helping someone who is suicidal is to find out whether they are in danger of acting on their suicidal feelings. Determine the urgency of the situation by assessing for risk of suicide or harm. Be sensitive and ask direct questions, such as:

  • How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?
  • Do you feel like giving up?
  • Are you thinking about dying?
  • Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  • Are you thinking about suicide?
  • Do you have a plan to kill yourself?
  • Have you ever thought about suicide before, or tried to harm yourself?
  • Have you ever thought about how or when you would kill yourself?
  • Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?
  • Do you have anything you need to carry out your plan?

Offering an opportunity for an individual to talk about their feelings may reduce their risk of acting on suicidal feelings. Some people believe that mentioning suicide may cause someone to consider suicide for the first time. This is untrue. You are more likely to help someone feel less alone if they were considering suicide by talking about it with them. All thoughts of suicide must be treated seriously.

If someone has a plan and is ready to carry out that plan, call 911 immediately and ask for a mental health professional to be dispatched so that an assessment can be made.

If you think an individual is in danger, keep the person safe. Stay with them for as long as you can. An actively suicidal person should not be left alone. If you cannot stay, find someone who can be with the person until help arrives. You can always call our Diversus Health crisis hotline for assistance, at (719)-635-7000.

If you determine that a person is having suicidal thoughts but there is no immediate danger, engage in conversation with them, if possible.

Listen Without Judgement

If an individual does not appear to be in a crisis, encourage them to talk about what they are thinking and feeling. It can be difficult to hear that someone you know is experiencing distress. By listening and genuinely caring for your loved one, you can have a calming, positive impact on that individual. You can start to learn more about what is at the root of their suicidal thoughts.

It is okay to not fully understand what a suicidal person is feeling or going through. What is important is that you are able to accept what they are saying and acknowledge what it might be like for them. Stay patient and respectful – this can make all the difference.

Offer Reassurance and Information

People with suicidal ideation may not have much hope. Reassurance is crucial. Suicidal thoughts are often associated with treatable mental illnesses. If you feel comfortable, you can offer to help your loved one get appropriate help and treatment. You can let them know that thoughts of suicide are common and that they do not have to act on them.

Encourage Professional Help

If you are concerned for a suicidal person’s immediate safety, call 911.

If you are concerned and know that the situation is not immediately urgent, ensure the person has a safety contact available at all times. This safety contact can be a loved one or a mental health professional. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is another great resource: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

If you are sure the crisis has passed, the individual is not actively suicidal but has suicidal thoughts, encourage them to seek appropriate professional help. You can offer further assistance by helping them to schedule an appointment with one of our Diversus Health mental health providers. Remind your loved one that recovery is possible with treatment.

“When you are living in a society that pressures you to get better alone,” says Dr. Littrell, “reaching our for help shows strength and courage.”

Encourage Self-Help and Additional Support Strategies

Ask your loved one to think about what has helped them in the past. Perhaps there is a family member, friend, spiritual leader, or therapist that has given them support for suicide prevention. Maybe there is a particular community, group, church, or club that is available to attend for additional support. Individuals with suicidal thoughts and ideations should seek a support system as much as possible during this time.

We are raising awareness of suicide and suicide prevention through our free QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) education program, which runs every third Friday of every month. For more information about how you can help someone with suicidal thoughts and ideations, sign up and join us for our free, virtual QPR suicide prevention training, and learn more with Diversus Health today.

*If you need additional support, consider reaching out to request an appointment with one of our mental health care providers at Diversus Health today. If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health crisis and need immediate assistance, call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255. 

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