There’s nothing more frightening than the concern that someone you know may be at risk for suicide. And yet, suicide risk is a much more common crisis than many of us imagine. Worldwide, a person dies by suicide every 40 seconds. In the United States, the latest data shows the suicide rate to be at a 30-year-high, having increased by 24 percent in 15 years. In a given lifetime, all of us will encounter someone in crisis. From the person showing visible distress in a public space to, a friend who is struggling to cope with a break-up, to a close family member, they need us to be there and care. That is why it’s so important to know what we can do to help.
In the past I’ve written about the warning signs for suicide and helper tasks to reach out to someone in need. This month, in honor of National Suicide Prevention Month, I’m hosting a FREE Webinar with Dr. John Draper, the Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to discuss “Effectively Saving Lives.” When I recently had the chance to speak to Dr. Draper, he told me about the Lifeline's #Bethe1to campaign to encourage people to learn the steps they can take to help someone who may be suicidal. The five steps they outline are part of an effective, coordinated strategy embraced by researchers and experts in the field of suicidology. The steps are simple and straightforward. Learning them can make you more confident to reach out, and by implementing them, you can help save a life.
The steps include:
1. ASK. It’s a serious misconception that asking someone about a suicide will plant the seed in their mind or make them more likely to do it. Research shows this just isn’t true. We can be direct when it comes to talking to someone about if they’re suicidal. Don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you okay? Are you thinking about suicide? How can I help?” Let them know you care by noticing, “It seems like you’re in pain.” Don’t be judgmental and really listen to what they have to say. Help them focus on their reasons for living. People can feel relief when they are asked in a caring way what’s going on.
2. Keep them safe. Stay with the person until you can get them help. Try to establish if they’ve taken any suicidal actions. Do they have a plan to take action? Have they thought about the means they would use? Try to remove any lethal means that they could use to hurt themselves. Do anything you can to put time and distance between the person and their method.
3. Be there. Feeling connected is one of the ways to help protect someone who’s feeling suicidal. Let people know that you are someone they can ask for help when they’re in trouble. Keep being a good listener. Help them identify who they can turn to for help and how they can keep connecting.
4. Help them connect. Get the person to the help they need. If they’re in immediate danger, you can take them to the emergency room. Help them find a counseling center or a therapist in their area. Make sure they have the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number 1(800)273-TALK (8255). This is a free hotline available 24/7. You can even make the call with them. There are many resources, including text and chat lines and even phone apps (see the end of the article for a list of resources) that can help the person stay safe.
One of the most important things to do is assist the person in making a safety plan. This is a plan to remind them, when they are distress, of how they can help themselves and reach out in order to keep themselves alive and safe. It includes steps they will take when they feel suicidal. Throughout this process, always do what you can to help the person connect to strategies that have worked for them in the past and their own positive feelings and desire to live.
5. Follow up. It’s important to stick in there. Check in with the person after you’ve gotten them to help. Make sure the person knows you’re there when they need you. Suicidal feelings often come and go. Being there for someone when they are in a self-destructive state can help them get through the crisis until they reconnect to the side of themselves that wants to live. Following up with the person shows you care and can keep them feeling connected.
Learn more about these steps here.
Seeing someone in a suicidal state is painful, but we don’t have to feel helpless. The suicidal state is almost always transient and temporary. Each time we get between a person and their plan for suicide, by being there for them, we increase their chances of staying alive in the long run. Most people who at one time were suicidal have gone on to lead rich and meaningful lives that they do not want to lose. Anyone in crisis should hear these stories of hope and know that things can get better. One place to hear these stories is livethroughthis.org. Any one of us can be the one to help support someone through a dark time and live the experience of finding hope.
On Sep. 13 Dr. Draper will join me for a free Webinar to discuss effective methods to help a suicidal person. Join us live or watch a recording to learn more about what we can do to be the one to save a life.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and their website also has an online chat feature. You can contact them anytime if you’re worried that you or someone you know may be in crisis.
There is a 24/7 Crisis Text Line available, where you can text trained crisis counselors. The text line is free and confidential and can be reached by texting “GO” TO 741741.
There are many APPS available that have been created to help people access the resources and tools they need when they’re in distress. These include: ASK and Prevent Suicide, Suicide Crisis Support, Virtual Hope Box, and My3 Safety Plan App.
If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.