You might have seen that September was Suicide Awareness Month, and there’s been much advocacy throughout past few weeks. But this won’t be another article just listing the stats on suicide and self-harm. That information is important to understanding why suicide intervention is necessary, but the purpose of this blog is to share practical, tangible action steps for helping someone who may be suicidal. If you’ve ever known someone that has struggled with suicidality, cutting, overdose, or other self-harming behaviors then you know how scary and helpless it can feel. These tips are intended to help you feel empowered and a little more equipped to walk with others who are feeling hopeless.
Know What To Look For
Identifying key indicators of suicidal thoughts may be half the battle. Some individuals may vocalize their suicidal ideation, whether directly or indirectly. But unfortunately, many individuals who are considering self-harm may never voice their intentions out loud. There are also behavioral clues that can provide indicators of someone who may be at-risk. Here are some examples of cues to look for.
Direct Verbal Cues: I don’t want to live anymore. I wish I were dead. I’m going to commit suicide.
Indirect Verbal Cues: I just want out. Nobody needs me anymore. What’s the point of going on? I’m just so tired of it all.
Behavioral Cues: Substance abuse. Putting personal affairs in order. Sudden interest in religion or the afterlife. Recent loss, crisis, illness or conflict. Uncharacteristic behaviors or communication.
Address Suicide and Self-Harm Directly
There is a myth that instills fear in many helpers that speaking the possibility out loud may put the idea of suicide into the head of a struggling individual. However, asking the question is the most helpful intervention for helping those considering suicide or self-harm. It may be scary and uncomfortable to initiate the conversation. But research shows that the majority of suicidal individuals feel relief, not distress, when they are asked if they are considering suicide. Here are appropriate words and phrasing that you should be prepared to ask.
You know, when people are as upset as you seem to be, they sometimes wish they were dead. I’m wondering if you’re feeling that way too?
Do you ever wish you could go to sleep and never wake up?
Are you feeling suicidal?
Asking questions like these seems daunting. But it may be a beacon of hope that a struggling individual clings to.
Listen & Get The Right Help
Once you’ve asked the question, your first role is just to listen. You don’t need to offer advice or try to make them feel better. Your job is to stay present and quietly receive their story. Once you have heard from them, you can gently reply, “I’m so glad you’ve shared with me. I want you to live. I’d like for you to come with me to see a professional who can help us.”
This phrasing and action step is important for a couple of reasons. You don’t want help to be reliant on the follow-through of the suffering individual. You want to affirm this person in front of you that their life is valuable to you, even if you can’t speak on the behalf of others. And you want to go with them to get the appropriate help that they need.
If you believe that the person is unstable and would be in danger waiting on an appointment, then the local emergency room is an option to ensure their safety and others’. However, another option can be to ask the individual to verbally commit to pursuing help and make an appointment with a counselor or psychologist with them. You can either plan to bring the person to the appointment or follow up at the time of the appointment to ensure they went.
Remove All Means
A final way to help is to “make suicide hard”. Put simply, remove any means that an individual could use to harm themselves- guns, weapons, rope, medications, poisonous materials, etc. Simply taking away these items when a person is in crisis is a great way to protect someone you care about.
Navigating these waters with people in your life is scary and hard and unsettling. If you are walking with someone that you believe may be suicidal, it can feel helpless. We want to encourage you that even these simple steps can make a huge difference. Your bravery in the wake of a scary situation will provide hope to someone when they are feeling their most hopeless. For more information about how to help someone through suicidal ideation and self-harm, visit https://qprinstitute.com/individual-training for further equipping.