How to help prevent suicide
The word ‘suicide’ gets everyone’s attention, but the events leading up to it can go unnoticed. From suicide hotlines to spotting warning signs, learn how to help prevent suicide.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death in Americans aged 10 to 29, responsible for 12% of deaths in the European Union, and the 10th leading cause of death, worldwide. If you are feeling suicidal, you are not alone. Talk to someone. It can help. If you think someone may be feeling suicidal, talk to them. Reach out.
Suicide warning signs
Verbal cues are the most obvious. Check this list of phrases that may indicate a person is contemplating suicide. Any stated intention of suicide, or suicidal behaviour should be taken seriously. This is especially important when communicating over the Internet, when body language, tone of voice and knowledge of personal situations are not available.
If a person tells you that they are going to kill themselves, determine their location, and phone emergency services. Do not wait, even if you’ve sworn to keep that person’s feelings a secret. To every rule there is an exception; secrets that put people in deadly danger are not to be kept. If the suicidal person doesn’t want you to call emergency services, makes you swear not to call, whatever call anyway.
A person’s behaviour can also indicate their suicidal intentions. Though the following changes of behaviour could quite possibly be caused by something other than suicide ideation, a person exhibiting such behaviour should still be offered help.
- Lack of energy
- Increase in energy/reckless behaviour
- Disturbed sleep patterns – sleeping too much or too little; nightmares
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden weight gain or loss
- Increase in minor illnesses
- Change of sexual interest either suddenly withdrawn or suddenly promiscuous
- Menstrual cycle irregularities (often missed periods)
- Sudden change in appearance
- Lack of interest in appearance
- Fear of going ‘crazy’, harming self or others
- Exaggerated/extended boredom
- Unusually long grief reactions
Persons who have previously seemed depressed, but now appear happier and more energetic, may also be at risk of suicide. Depression can be so deep as to render a person incapable of doing anything; should the depression lift slightly, the person will have enough energy and motivation to plan a suicide attempt. The formation of a suicide plan can also bring relief and motivation to a person, causing them to behave in ways typical seen as positive.
We’ve recognized the need for help, but how are we supposed to help? Some people are afraid to mention suicide around a depressed friend, fearing that talking about suicide could further influence their friend. On the contrary, showing a willingness to discuss suicide or other serious issues is beneficial. Suicidal teenagers, especially, do not seek help. Adolescents may believe that nothing can help them, or that seeking help is a sign of weakness. However, these thoughts are not limited to teenagers. If you think that someone you know may be contemplating suicide, please do not wait for them to talk to you.
How to help a suicidal friend
Even if you are very close with someone, it may not be easy to find the words to help walk them back from the brink of suicide.
What you should – and shouldn’t – do if someone is feeling suicidal
Listen: Give them your undivided attention. Practice active listening by repeating/rephrasing some of what they tell you back to them so they know they you’re listening. Don’t try to turn the conversation onto yourself, or someone you know who’s ‘gone through the same thing’. Listen to the person who needs your help.
Respect and acknowledge someone who is feeling suicidal
Accept and acknowledge what they say, even if their feelings or perceptions seem distorted. Don’t pity or patronize them. Don’t dismiss their feelings as ‘the blues’ or give the empty assurance that ‘everything will be alright’. Don’t tell them to ‘cheer up’. Don’t try to take charge of the conversation or interrogate. Listen to the person who needs your help.
Show that you care
Physical presence is more sincere than a voice or line of text on the phone. If it’s possible, go to the person who needs your help. Pamper them. Cook for them, play their favourite music, hug them, hold them tight if they want to cry to you. And listen. Don’t go away.
Help your suicidal friend get help
Remove lethal objects (pills, firearms, etc.) from the area. Help them find counseling or medical services. Become a reason for them to keep living.
In the U.S.:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
Deaf Hotline: 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889)
For persons not residing in the United States, here are suicide hotlines listed by country.
More numbers can be found by calling 411 or 0 and asking for a hotline. Check the FRONT pages of the phone book for:
* suicide prevention
* crisis intervention
* hotlines – crisis or suicide
* community crisis centre
* county mental health centre
* hospital mental health clinic
Calling one of these numbers will connect you with a person who wants to help you, whether you yourself are suicidal or someone you care about is. These lines are open 24/7, and can connect you with services in your immediate area. These services are free and confidential. In addition to suicide and crisis counseling, help can also be given for GLBT issues, abuse and economic problems.
Suicide prevention – organisations
To Write Love On Her Arms is an organisation dedicated to help cutters and suicidal teenagers.
Additionally, if you want to help suicidal strangers, you can join a suicide prevention group. Befrienders.org has information on joining their organization, as well as setting up your own phone help-line. An Internet search for suicide prevention organizations in your area will most likely yield results for groups that will accept your efforts. You’ll have to go through training, of course, and probably won’t receive monetary compensation. But, imagine you can save a life!