Suicide is often preventable.
When a suicide happens, it can affect an entire community. Throughout history, people have often felt powerless to stop suicides, but recently, researchers have stressed that suicide is often preventable. Improving awareness of suicide and reducing the stigma of treatment could allow more people to get help—which can prevent suicide.
You might have seen posts on social media begging people who are struggling to reach out and ask for help. This is helpful, but in many cases, people with suicidal ideation already feel like a burden to others. It may be more helpful for loved ones to recognize the signs and offer help.
Recognizing Signs of Suicidal Ideation
One of the most important steps in helping others to prevent suicide is to be able to recognize the warning signs of suicidal ideation. This term refers to planning or having thoughts about suicide. When someone is having suicidal ideation, their risk of actually having a suicide attempt is much higher.
Signs of suicidal ideation include:
- Comments about feeling trapped, hopeless, or like a burden to others
- Isolating oneself from friends and family
- Extreme mood swings
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Recent purchase of a gun or weapon
- Increased use of drugs and alcohol
- Planning a suicide or mentioning details about a suicide plan
How to Help Others and Prevent Suicide
If you think someone is thinking about suicide, don’t wait to intervene. Experts recommend a direct, nonjudgmental conversation to listen to your loved one and assess the level of threat to their safety.
Here are steps to keep in mind, according the #BeThe1To campaign:
- Directly ask them if they are thinking about suicide. The goal is to start a conversation. Make sure to listen to their answers without judgment, and ask them when they started feeling this way. Be careful to avoid offending them or provoking them further. Learn more about what to say if a loved one talks to you about suicide.
- Be present literally and/or figuratively. If you can’t be with them in person, you can still find ways to be supportive. Follow through on any promises, and don’t make promises you can’t keep. (Never promise that you won’t tell anyone about their suicidal ideation.)
- Find ways to keep them safe. If you think a suicide attempt is imminent, call 911 or take them to an emergency room.
- Help them connect with professionals and resources who can help them. Even if your loved one is resisting help, you can still call suicide hotlines to get support and advice.
- Follow up with them later to see how they’re doing or if there are other ways you can help them. This check-in can reaffirm that people care about them and are ready to help.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK for free and confidential help 24 hours a day.
Marc Lener, MD, is a psychiatrist and founder of the Singula Institute in New York City