Suicide prevention experts: What you say (and don’t say) could save a person’s life – Alia E. Dastagir, USA TODAY – Sept. 2018
On average, there are more than 128 suicides per day in the United States, attempted by people with and without known mental health conditions. USA TODAY.
It’s crazy that even the most biased and highest estimates (by the conflation of any and all drugs) of overdose deaths are only about half the number of suicides, but no big money groups or politicians are advocating for “suicide prevention”.
So suicide deaths are almost twice as common as “opioid overdose” deaths, yet very little is being done to address this much more serious issue.
I think it has frightening implications for our country when so many citizens are finding their lives so burdened with ever-increasing pain–physical, financial, emotional, spiritual–pain that becomes literally unbearable over time.
We all have a limit of how much suffering we can tolerate without hope for relief. Thanks to the current anti-opioid craziness, suicide becomes the only escape possible.
For every person who dies by suicide, 280 people think seriously about it but don’t.
There’s not one answer to what makes someone move from thinking about suicide to planning or attempting it, but experts say feeling connected to other people can help.
Tip 1. If someone seems different, don’t ignore it
The most important thing you can do is look for a change in someone’s behavior that suggests they are struggling.
“Trust your gut,” Foreman says. “If you’re worried, believe your worry.”
Foreman notes changes in behavior are some of the most telling indicators, but it’s also important to look for specific warning signs:
Tip 2. Don’t be afraid to ask. Then act
The most important thing you can do if you think someone may be suicidal is to ask.
It may be hard, but it works. Don’t buy into the disproven idea that there’s nothing you can do to help, or that bringing up suicide might do more harm than good..
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline have identified these five steps to help reduce deaths:
- Ask: In a private setting, ask the person you’re worried about directly if they’re thinking about suicide. Studies have shown that it does not “plant the idea” in someone who is not suicidal but rather reduces risk. It lets the person know you’re open to talking, that there’s no shame in what the person may be feeling
- Keep them safe: Determine the extent of the person’s suicidal thoughts.“What could I do to help you stay around until this passes?” Harkavy-Freidman said. “What could I do to help you stay around until this passes?”
- Be there: If someone tells you they’re thinking about suicide, continue to support them. Ask them to coffee. Give them a call. Some people will eventually stop having suicidal thoughts and feelings, others will continue to struggle throughout their lives.
Well, this pretty much describes me. I’ve had suicidal thoughts on and off since puberty when I made my first attempt.
To my surprise, I find life much more valuable as the years accumulate – perhaps even “sacred”. That and knowing what horrible scars it would leave on everyone that I care about are powerful deterrents for me.
- Help them connect: Encourage them to seek additional support. That could mean calling the Suicide Lifeline (800-273-8255), suggesting they see a mental health professional or helping them connect with a support group.
- Follow up: Keep checking in. Call them, text them. Ask if there’s anything more you can do to help.
Tip 3. Pay special attention when someone is going through a difficult time
You can check in on people based on what you know about them, said John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
While experts caution that suicide is never the result of a single cause (bullying, a breakup, job loss), when those events are combined with other health, social and environmental factors they can heighten risk.
Tip 4. If someone makes an attempt and survives, continue to be there
One of the risk factors for suicide is a prior attempt. Studies show that suicide survivors often experience discrimination and shame and may struggle to talk about their feelings because they are worried people will judge or avoid them.
If someone you know is a suicide survivor, the Suicide Lifeline says:
- Check in with them often.
- Tell them it’s OK for them to talk about their suicidal feelings.
- Listen without judgment.
- Tell them you want them in your life.
- If they start to show warning signs, ask directly if they’re thinking about suicide.
- Call the Lifeline for advice on how to help: 800-273-TALK (8255))
Tip 5. You don’t need to have all the answers
Resources to get help
Suicide Lifeline: If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night or chat online.
Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.
For people who identify as LGBTQ, if you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, you can also contact The Trevor Project’s TrevorLifeline 24/7/365 at 1-866-488-7386.
The Military/Veterans Crisis Line, online chat, and text-messaging service are free to all service members, including members of the National Guard and Reserve and veterans, even if you are not registered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or enrolled in VA health care. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.