Suicide is an uncomfortable topic to discuss but one that should be discussed openly and honestly. To help raise awareness and open the dialogue, September is recognized as National Suicide Prevention Month.
According to Psychology Today, suicide is a difficult topic, but silence can have tragic results. And those who are the sounding board for a suicidal friend or family member also need resources to help them navigate their journey in that role.
It’s important for everyone to remember that suicide’s reach goes far beyond the individual who is having suicidal thoughts and even actions. Those around them – family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, associates, etc. – are impacted as well. In addition, while a suicidal person may not directly ask for help, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want help. So, what can someone do to help?
Recognizing suicide warning signs
An important part – the first step actually – of suicide prevention is recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously as well as knowing how to respond to them. Warning signs of suicide include:
- Talking about suicide.
- Looking for access to guns, pills, knives, etc.
- Having a preoccupation with death.
- Sudden mood swings or personality changes.
- Neglecting appearance.
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns.
- Saying goodbye.
- Self-destructive behavior.
Suicide prevention tips
- If someone is worried about another individual, they are encouraged to speak up and start a conversation. Giving a suicidal person the opportunity to share their feelings can provide relief.
Melissa Covarrubias, behavioral health counselor at the Center for Healthy Living (CHL) on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus, suggests starting a conversation with a simple statement that reflects the concerns. For example, “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately, so I wanted to check in,” or, “How are you doing? I’ve noticed some changes in you and want to be sure you’re OK.”
“Remind them that they are not alone and that you are in their corner. Let them know the way they are feeling now will change and that you care about them and want them to be OK,” Covarrubias says.
- Respond quickly. It’s important to try to determine if the individual is in immediate danger.
HelpGuide offers the following suggested questions to ask to help assess the immediate risk of suicide:
- Do you have a suicide plan?
- Do you have what you need to carry out your plan?
- Do you know when you would do it?
- Do you intend to take your own life?
Determining the level of risk – HelpGuide offers the following risk assessment.
- Low – Some suicidal thoughts. No suicide plan. Says he or she won’t attempt suicide.
- Moderate – Suicidal thoughts. Vague plan. Says he or she won’t attempt suicide.
- High – Suicidal thoughts. Specific plan. Says he or she won’t attempt suicide.
- Severe – Suicidal thoughts. Specific plan. Says he or she will attempt suicide.
“It’s important to pay attention and take them seriously, even if you do not think that the person you’re trying to help is in immediate danger,” Covarrubias says.
- Offer help and support. “Trying to help someone who is suicidal can be emotionally challenging,” Covarrubias says. “While trying to offer support, remember not to put the responsibility on yourself for making the individual better. You can offer support, but only the individual in question can make the decision to get help and commit to ongoing treatment and therapy.”
Some things to do to offer support:
- Help find professional help for the individual and encourage him or her to go see someone.
- Be proactive in regard to reaching out. Don’t wait for the person to call or ask for help. Stop by to visit, keep calling and invite the person out for dinner or even a walk.
- Encourage lifestyle changes that will positively affect the individual. Things such as a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, getting outside and so on. Health coaches at the CHL and Purdue Fort Wayne can help create long-term plans, set goals, help sustain positive changes, and motivate and encourage behavior changes.
- Make a safety plan. Assist in developing a plan for the individual so he or she can identify triggers and follow the steps that are determined to be most helpful. Include the contact numbers for the individual’s therapist (if applicable), crisis center hotline, Suicide Prevention Lifeline and other contacts who can help in an emergency.
- Continue supporting the individual long-term. Keep in touch, periodically stop by to visit, call to check in and remind the individual that there is hope.
Additional information to help provide support to someone who is considering suicide is available on the Mental Health America’s “For Family & Friends” webpage. “After an Attempt” is a guide provided by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which provides helpful information for those who have attempted suicide as well those supporting them.
- Get training:
- Suicide Prevention QPR Gatekeeper – QPR stands for Question, Persuade, Refer – three simple steps that anyone can learn to help prevent a suicide and save a life. For more information about QPR, visit the QPR Institute’s website. Additionally, Purdue’s Office of the Dean of Students offers “Suicide Prevention QPR Gatekeeper” training sessions on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. Sessions are advertised in Purdue Today when they are available.
- Mental Health First Aid – Purdue Extension has a team of certified facilitators of Mental Health First Aid (an eight-hour training to teach participants how to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis) who are able to bring this important, lifesaving course to your campus community, organization or department.
- Additionally, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers many training resources, as does the group, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), by providing tools to community leaders to help prevent suicide.
- Get involved. During September, when the focus is on raising awareness for suicide prevention, it’s easier for individuals to join in to support those around them and in their communities. However, that support is needed all year long regardless of whether an individual is directly helping someone in need.
There are many ways to get and stay involved. Share information about suicide and suicide prevention on social media to help reduce the stigma associated with it. Keep the dialogue going with family and friends about the need for increased awareness and support. Volunteer at a local crisis shelter or similar organization. Donate to agencies who work nonstop to provide support and services for individuals in need.
Suicide prevention resources
There are many suicide prevention resources available, including:
- 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline – The Lifeline provides 24-hour, confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. 988 has been designated as the new three-digit dialing code that will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call or text 988 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. Support is also available via live chat. More information about 988 is available here.
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) – Offers resources for suicide prevention for anyone in need, including resources supporting diverse communities and the LGBTQ community.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Shares resources, facts, risk factors and more.
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) – Shares action steps to help someone and more.
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) – Shares multiple resources on suicide prevention.
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