What to Look For, What to Say, and How to Help
“But she seemed fine the other day!” “No one suspected it.” “Why didn’t he ask for help?” It’s common to hear statements like this after a suicide. The death often comes as a shock, leaving friends and loved ones lost in confusion and regret. However, even when the pain doesn’t seem obvious, people with suicidal thoughts often do show some signs. By learning what to look for, you can offer help and hope during a crucial time.
Signs of Suicidal Thoughts
Pay attention to the people close to you and be alert to any changes in their behavior, such as the following:
- Talking or writing about suicide or death
- Giving away belongings
- Withdrawing from loved ones and activities
- Feeling hopeless, helpless, or worthless
- Increasing use of alcohol or other drugs
- Changing sleep or eating habits
- Looking for ways to attempt suicide and obtaining means
- Feeling depressed, anxious, angry, irritable, disinterested, or humiliated
How to Respond
The way you talk about your loved one’s suicidal thoughts can make a difference. Although suicide is a frightening and uncomfortable subject, it’s best to stay honest and direct. The following responses are offered by www.suicideispreventable.org:
- Make it clear that you’re not asking about suicide “out of the blue” but have been paying attention to signs. This makes it more difficult for the person to deny that something is bothering them.
Ex: "I've noticed that you've mentioned feeling hopeless a lot lately…"
- Don’t be afraid to ask directly about suicide. Directness does not put the idea in someone’s head but opens the door for conversation, establishing that you and the person at risk are talking about the same thing and that you’re willing to help.
Ex: “Are you thinking about ending your life?"
- Listen to the reasons the person has for both living and dying. Validate that they are considering both options and underscore that living is an option for them.
Ex: "I can imagine how tough this must be for you. I understand when you say that you aren't sure if you want to live or die. But have you always wanted to die? Well, maybe there's a chance you won't feel this way forever. I can help."
- Ask the person if they have access to any lethal means (weapons, medications, etc.) and help remove them from the vicinity. Another friend, family member or law enforcement agent may be needed to assist with this. Do not put yourself in danger; if you are concerned about your own safety, call 911.
Ex: "Do you have any weapons or prescription medications in the house?"
- Get a verbal commitment that the person will not act upon thoughts of suicide until they have met with a professional.
Ex: "Please promise me that you will not harm yourself or act on any thoughts of suicide until you meet with a professional."
How to Help
When talking to a loved one about suicide, be prepared to help. If you feel the situation is immediately life threatening, take the person to a nearby emergency room or walk-in psychiatric crisis clinic or call 9-1-1.
You may also help your friend contact the following local resources, which are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call together, and/or stay with them for support:
- Ashland County Crisis Hotline: 419.289.6111
- Crisis Text Line: Text "4HOPE" to 741741
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- Military & Veterans Crisis Line: call 1.800.273.8255 and press "1"
Join us September 30 for the Suicide Awareness Prevention Walk - register online today.