Learn / How to Help Someone Who Is Suicidal
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. If the person is not currently in crisis, talk to a mental health professional, a helpline, or emergency services in your country. Many countries have crisis helplines that offer support and assistance to individuals in distress. The United States Suicide Hotline is 988, and the US number to message for a crisis text line is 741741. If you live outside of the United States, you can find your country’s emergency number in this list.
If you are supporting someone close to you who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, it is essential to take a sensitive and earnest approach. There can be many underlying factors that contribute to suicidal ideation, and seeking expert assistance is always strongly recommended.
Recognizing warning signs of suicidality can save a life. While these signs are unique to each person, some common ones that might indicate a person is experiencing suicidal thoughts include:
Sign #1: Expressing thoughts of hopelessness or having no reason to live
Sign #2: Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself
Sign #3: Engaging in reckless behavior or taking unnecessary risks
Sign #4: Withdrawing from social activities and isolating oneself from others
Sign #5: Exhibiting extreme mood swings or displaying sudden changes in behavior
Sign #6: Expressing feelings of being trapped or having no way out of a situation
Sign #7: Giving away personal belongings or making final arrangements
Sign #8: Increased use of alcohol or drugs
Sign #9: Sudden improvement or calmness following a period of depression or sadness (this may indicate a decision to attempt suicide)
Sign #10: A final goodbye conversation
Suicidal ideation and suicidal thoughts are intertwined concepts that have distinct characteristics. While both involve contemplating suicide, they differ in terms of the depth of the thought process and the amount of planning involved.
Suicidal thoughts are any thoughts of ending your life. This is usually less intense than ideation and is just a more general feeling of not wanting to live. Someone experiencing this could find a successful recovery in outpatient or residential treatment. If you know someone with suicidal thoughts, call 911 or 988. You can also text the US crisis text line: 741741.
Suicidal ideation is a thought-out suicide plan. The thoughts leading up to this are usually more intense and persistent and include a chosen method, timing, and specific actions they’re going to take. Someone with suicidal ideation should receive care in an inpatient setting, either at a hospital or a rehabilitation center. If you know someone has a plan and resources to commit suicide, call 911 and/or visit the nearest emergency room.
If someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, take their situation seriously and provide support. You can be an invaluable source of guidance and comfort for them during their recovery journey; however, it is important to remember that it is essential to find professional help.
If you believe the person is in immediate danger, do not leave them alone. Try to remove any items from their space that they could use for self-harm or suicide. Develop a safety plan that outlines steps they can take when they experience suicidal feelings or distress. Include emergency contacts, coping strategies, and resources they can turn to for support.
Encourage your loved one to seek professional help. You can help them find appropriate resources, make appointments, or accompany them to appointments if they are comfortable with you joining. Give them information about suicide prevention hotlines that they can contact for immediate support.
Offering hope to someone who is suicidal can be a powerful way to support them during a difficult time. Share recovery stories and celebrate any progress they make, no matter how small. Encourage them to envision a future where things can improve. And explore their goals and dreams with them.
After the initial intervention, continue to check in on them regularly. Knowing that someone cares and is available to listen can be very comforting. If allowed, check in with their care team to ensure they’re following through with their safety and treatment plans.
Talking to someone who is suicidal can be an opportunity to show your empathy, patience, and understanding. For this conversation, find a quiet and private space. Approach the conversation with a calm and non-judgmental attitude. Show that you genuinely care and want to listen. And be clear that you’re concerned about them.
Encourage them to share their feelings and thoughts by asking open-ended questions like, “can you tell me what you’ve been going through?” or “how have you been feeling lately?”
Acknowledge their feelings by saying “Tell me how you are feeling, I want to hear you,” or “I am here for you. Tell me how I can help you.” If you feel comfortable, ask them if they’re feeling suicidal, so that you know what type of support to get them. Empathize with what they’re experiencing—they’ll be more likely to trust you for help.
Be patient with your loved one. They are going through a challenging time, so let them talk at their own pace. Stay calm and collected when they tell you about their feelings. Make sure they know that you’re there for them and that they don’t have to go through this alone. Remind them that seeking help is a positive step.
Finding Immediate Help
Help is always available. If someone is in a life-threatening situation, call 911 and/or take them to an emergency room and stay with the person until they have medical help. If you live outside of the United States, you can find your country’s emergency number in this list.
Call a Hotline
If your loved one is currently safe, you can call the United States Suicide Hotline: 988. The number provides 24/7, confidential support to anyone in crisis. Another number to call is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or text “HOME” to 741741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor via text message.
Find a Mental Health Professional
Once you have assured your loved one’s safety and have talked with a hotline and/or doctor, you can consult a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist, to develop their treatment plan. If you are having trouble finding an available professional, go to your primary care physician first. They can refer you to the appropriate person.
Mental health professionals are trained to help people with suicidal thoughts. They can provide therapy, medication management, and coping strategies. Talk therapy may be a big part of their recovery plan.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and psychodynamic therapy are just some of the therapies they might participate in. Therapy can help your loved one develop coping skills, challenge negative thought patterns, and improve their emotional regulation.
In some cases, doctors may prescribe medication to address underlying mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. They might prescribe antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or anti-anxiety medications. For the best results, use prescribed medication management with talk therapy.
Finally, rally a support network for your loved one. This is essential to keep them on the track to recovery. Kind words of compassion and motivation to keep going can help them on their journey.
If your loved one needs intensive care for suicide, then a residential rehab that treats suicidality or an inpatient psychiatric hospital may be the best fit for them. Here, they will have 24/7 support and supervision from trained nurses and professionals. They’ll be able to grow and heal in a safe environment, separate from the triggers in their daily lives.
These programs offer a variety of therapeutic interventions, including individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and psychoeducation. Therapists address the underlying issues contributing to suicidal thoughts and work on building healthy coping skills. They will also create a safety plan.
After completing the residential program, clients typically transition to outpatient care. A thorough discharge plan ensures a smooth transition and ongoing support.
Recovery is possible. Healing is possible. If you know someone that needs help, call 911 or the United States Suicide Hotline: 988.
The Lifeline and 988. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2023, from https://988lifeline.org/current-events/the-lifeline-and-988/
Crisis text line | text home to 741741 free, 24/7 crisis counseling. (n.d.). Crisis Text Line. Retrieved September 26, 2023, from https://www.crisistextline.org/
List of emergency telephone numbers. (2023). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_emergency_telephone_numbers
National suicide prevention lifeline 1-800-273-talk(8255). (n.d.). The National Prevention Toolkit. Retrieved September 26, 2023, from https://nationaltoolkit.csw.fsu.edu/resource/national-suicide-prevention-lifeline-1-800-273-talk-8255/
Kamenov, K., Twomey, C., Cabello, M., Prina, A. M., & Ayuso-Mateos, J. L. (2017). The efficacy of psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy and their combination on functioning and quality of life in depression: A meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine, 47(3), 414–425. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5244449/
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