Washington State Department of Health — Suicide is a complex and difficult topic, but everyone should know one important fact: It can be prevented.
Talking about suicide can help reduce thoughts of suicide and improve mental health overall. Avoiding the topic can lead to misinformation and myths that encourage stigma. These negative and unfair beliefs may cause or worsen the feelings of guilt and shame that often come with a mental health crisis. Stigma can also make it tough to share these thoughts and emotions and may lead to isolation.
If you have a friend or loved one in emotional distress, your compassion and support can make a major difference.
You can be the one to support someone in crisis and help save their life. Here are 5 important steps from the #BeThe1To Campaign you can take right now.
If you’re worried about someone, there’s never a bad time to ask if they’re thinking about suicide. As a start, it can help to learn the signs. 2 out of 3 adults in the United States say they don’t know enough to recognize when someone is considering suicide.
Examples of these signs include:
Talking about being a burden or feeling trapped
Talking about feeling empty, worthless, or hopeless
Talking about wanting to die
Withdrawing from friends and family
Sudden changes in mood or behavior
Changes in sleeping or eating habits
Learning to recognize these signs may help you feel more comfortable asking questions about suicide. It’s also important to know that directly asking, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” won’t lead someone to consider suicide. But it will let them know they can discuss the topic with you.
Someone in crisis may want to get help, but they may not know how. They might also worry about judgment or rejection. Starting the conversation yourself tells them you care about how they feel. This may help ease some of their distress, and they may feel safe enough to trust you with what’s on their mind.
You can help them feel understood and validated by fully listening to their answer, without brushing aside or minimizing the reasons for their distress.
For instance, you’d want to avoid saying something like:
“That’s no big deal. Everyone goes through breakups.”
Instead, you could say:
“That sounds so painful. I’m sorry you’re dealing with such a difficult situation, and I understand why you feel so low right now.”
Questions to ask include:
“What can I do to help?”
“What helps you feel better when you’re feeling this way?”
“What are your reasons for staying alive?”
2. Be there
A greater sense of belonging and connection can play a major role in lowering suicide risk. People in crisis may feel less isolated when they know they have ongoing support from others.
It’s OK if you can’t always show up for someone physically (in person). You can also be present by:
Talking over phone or video
Staying in contact via text or chat
Helping them list other supportive friends and family to contact
Offering support with brainstorming other ways to ease their distress, like taking a walk, playing with pets, or visiting a favorite place
Just take care to only offer support you can truly provide.
For example, it may not be realistic to say:
“Call me whenever — really, any time at all.”
Instead, you could say:
“I might not be able to answer my phone right away, so just text and I’ll call back as soon as possible.”
3. Help them stay safe
When someone says they’re thinking about suicide, it’s important to ask if they have a suicide plan and access to the method they plan to use. Many people who have thoughts of suicide don’t have a specific plan, and they may not intend to act on their thoughts.
Others may have a plan and a timeline for acting on that plan. They may have lethal methods like medication or weapons with them or in their home. If this is the case, it’s important to stay with them and encourage them to get professional support right away. You can also remove these lethal methods if they give permission and you can move the items safely.
Some people in crisis may also find it helpful to leave the house and go somewhere safe, like a loved one’s home, a park or coffee shop, or another public space.
4. Help them connect with other sources of support
The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline offers free, confidential support to people having thoughts of suicide or dealing with another type of mental health or substance use crisis. You can call, text, or chat 988 at any time, 24/7, 365 days a year.
988 has four specialized lines for people calling from a Washington area code:
Choose option 1 for the Veterans Crisis Line.
Choose option 2 for the Spanish Language Line.
Choose option 3 for the LGBTQI+ Youth Subnetwork Line, which supports LGBTQIA2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual, and two-spirit) youth and young adults under age 25.
Choose option 4 for the Native and Strong Lifeline, which supports American Indian and Alaska Native people.
You can also reach the Spanish and LGBTQI+ Youth Subnetwork lines via text and chat.
When you contact 988, crisis counselors will listen, offer support, and help find resources. They can also help if you’re calling to get support for a friend or loved one. If your friend or loved one doesn’t feel able to contact 988, you can do it for them and encourage them to join the conversation for more support.
You can also help them list other people to contact in a crisis. This list can include numbers for supportive health care workers, crisis lines like 988, and trusted friends and family members.
If they’d like help finding a therapist, you can start with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) treatment locator or try an online therapist directory.
5. Follow up
Taking time to check on someone after the immediate crisis can remind them they still have your support. Whether you call or send a text, keeping the lines of connection open may help them feel less alone.
Follow-up after a crisis hotline call or visit to the emergency room helps prevent future admissions to the hospital and reduces suicide risk.
You can continue offering support by asking what they need. For example, you could ask if they need help picking up groceries or want company on a walk.