How to Reach Out to Someone Who May Be Suicidal
Simple and straightforward steps you can take to help someone in crisis.
Posted Jun 12, 2018
Seeing the familiar faces of beloved figures who have died by suicide is a pain that’s hard to reconcile. We are left stunned and saddened. How could this happen? How could someone so valued not feel their own value? Waking up to news of these tragedies forcefully reminds us that suicide is a real threat in our world. Depression and despair can grip anyone. Some of us may be left worried about someone we love. We may feel triggered, because we, too, have lost someone we care for, or fearful, because we also know what it’s like to be in pain. The most important thing I want people to remember is that the suicidal state is almost always transient and temporary. People in this state are transfixed by an internal enemy that attacks their true self, the side of them that wants to live. Often, if we can reach people in crisis, we can save lives.
In the wake of high-profile people dying by suicide, there is a risk of contagion. Now is the time to send the message loud and clear that suicide is not the way out. Help is available 24/7. There are countless stories of survival that prove that there is reason to be hopeful. The suicidal crisis can be overcome, and your precious life is worth saving. If we are worried about someone we think could be at risk, we should not be afraid to reach out. Asking someone if they are thinking about suicide will not put the idea in their head. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has put together the #Bethe1to campaign to teach people the steps they can take to help someone who may be suicidal. Bethe1to is part of a coordinated and effective strategy that has been embraced by experts and researchers in the field of suicidology. The steps are straightforward and simple. If you want to know how to approach someone you’re worried about, here’s what you can do:
1. Ask – When it comes to asking someone if they feel suicidal, we should be direct. Ask, “Are you okay? Are you thinking about suicide? How can I help?” Show the person that you care by paying attention and noticing. You may say, “It seems like you’re in pain.” Take time to really listen and don’t be judgmental about whatever they have to say. Try to help them focus in on their reasons for living. People can feel relief when someone shows real care and interest in what’s going on with them.
2. Keep them safe – Don’t leave the person alone. Stay with them until you can get them help. Try to find out if they’ve taken any suicidal actions and if they have a plan to take action. Ask them if they have they thought about a means they would use? Remove any lethal means that the person could use to hurt themselves. Your goal is to anything you can to put time and distance between the person and their method. Keeping a person safe while they’re in this state can help them get through the suicidal state.
3. Be there – One of the ways you can help protect someone who’s suicidal is to help them feel connected. Make sure they know that they can ask you for help whenever they’re in trouble. You can do a lot by always being a good listener. In addition, you should help them identify other people who they can turn to for help and ways they can stay connected to these people.
4. Help them connect – Accompany the person and do what you can to get them to the help they need. If the person is in immediate danger, you can take them to the emergency room. You can help them find a counseling center or a therapist in their area. Make sure they have the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1(800)273-TALK (8255) with them at all times. This hotline is free and available 24/7. You can even be on the call with them. There are many suicide prevention resources (listed at the end of this article) that can help a person stay safe. These include text and chat lines as well as phone apps.
Help the person in making a safety plan, a plan to assist them whenever they’re in distress, that will remind them how to help themselves and reach out in order to stay alive and safe. The plan includes steps they commit to taking when they feel suicidal. You can consistently make an effort to help the person connect to the strategies that have helped them feel better and have worked for them in the past. Always seek ways to help them reconnect to their positive feelings and desire to live.
5. Follow up – Stick in there. Keep checking in with the person after you’ve gotten them to help. Let them know that you’re there whenever they need you. Being there for them when they are in a self-destructive state can help them get through the crisis they’re experiencing until they reconnect to the part of themselves that wants to live. Following up shows how much you care and can help the person stay feeling connected.
Learn more about these steps here.
Seeing a friend in a suicidal state is really difficult, but taking these the steps can truly offer a path to a person in crisis toward the help they need. Today, there are therapy methods and treatment approaches that have proven effective in saving people from suicide. You can be the bridge getting them to that help. Each time we get between a person and their plan to hurt themselves, we increase their chances of staying alive long-term.
When it comes to the suicidal state, hope is always on the horizon. There are so many people with vastly different stories and circumstances who tell stories of surviving a suicidal crisis and going on to live a life they love, of people who are grateful they survived, and of individuals who are now thriving. I and my colleagues at The Glendon Association have personal experience hearing people say that one message, one small act of outreach saved their life. Anyone who is in crisis should hear these stories of hope and know that things can get better, and a good place to hear these stories is livethroughthis.org. Anyone struggling should know that your present pain is real, but that does not mean it will last forever. You can beat this internal enemy and return to the reality that, whether it feels that way or not right now, your life matters. The most important thing you can do is take any action you can to stay alive.
Resources: Phone, Text and Chat Lines, Apps, and Webinars
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Call or Chat Online)
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.
Crisis Text Line
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.
Watch a free Webinar with the Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Dr. John Draper, discussing effective methods to help a suicidal person
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS IN CRISIS OR IN NEED OF IMMEDIATE HELP, CALL 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
This is a free hotline available 24 hours a day to anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.
International readers can click here for a list of helplines and crisis centers around the world.
Click here to locate a therapist in your area.
For more Suicide Prevention Advice and Resources visit our Suicide Prevention Advice Page