In times of crisis, recognizing the signs that someone may be struggling with suicidal thoughts is of utmost importance. The mere thought of someone we care about being in such a vulnerable state can evoke feelings of fear and helplessness. However, it is crucial to remember that there are actions we can take to provide support and potentially save lives. By understanding the warning signs, having open conversations, and connecting them with professional help, we can play a vital role in offering compassion, hope, and potentially intervening in a time of crisis. Together, we can create a supportive network that promotes mental health and well-being for those who need it most.
Understanding the Warning Signs:
Suicide warning signs can vary from person to person, and it’s important to note that not everyone who exhibits these signs is necessarily suicidal. However, being aware of these indicators can help you recognize when someone may be in distress and in need of support. Some common warning signs of suicide include:
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or having no reason to live.
- Talking about death or suicide directly or indirectly, such as saying things like “I can’t go on” or “I wish I wasn’t here anymore.”
- Withdrawing from social activities and isolating themselves from friends and family.
- Sudden changes in mood or behavior, such as appearing sad, anxious, agitated, or reckless.
- Giving away prized possessions or making final arrangements (e.g., writing a will, saying goodbye to loved ones).
- Engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviors, including increased substance abuse or displaying a sudden lack of concern for personal safety.
- Exhibiting extreme mood swings or showing signs of being trapped in a deep sadness or despair.
- Experiencing a significant loss, trauma, or recent major life change.
- Drastic changes in sleep patterns, either sleeping excessively or having difficulty sleeping.
- Expressing a lack of interest or pleasure in activities they once enjoyed.
- Sudden improvement in mood: While it may seem contradictory, a sudden improvement in mood after a period of severe depression or hopelessness could indicate that an individual has made a decision to end their life. This improvement may result from a sense of relief or resolution they have reached.
It’s important to remember that everyone is different, and these signs should be considered in conjunction with other factors. If you notice any concerning behaviors or changes in someone’s demeanor, it’s crucial to reach out to them and encourage them to seek professional help.
How to Approach Someone
Approaching someone who may be suicidal requires sensitivity, empathy, and a non-judgmental attitude. Here are some steps to consider when reaching out to someone you suspect may be struggling:
Choose an appropriate setting: Find a private and quiet space where you can have a conversation without interruptions or distractions. Respect their privacy and ensure confidentiality.
Be direct and compassionate: Express your concern openly and honestly. Use non-judgmental language and convey empathy. Let them know that you care about their well-being and that they are not alone.
Listen actively: Give the person an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings. Practice active listening by maintaining eye contact, providing verbal and non-verbal cues of understanding, and withholding judgment. Allow them to express themselves without interruption.
Validate their emotions: Let the person know that their feelings are valid and that it’s okay to be struggling. Avoid dismissing or minimizing their experiences. Offer reassurance that they don’t have to face their difficulties alone and that help is available.
Ask directly about suicide: While it may feel uncomfortable, asking about suicide can be crucial. Be straightforward but gentle in your approach. Use a caring tone and ask questions like, “Have you been having thoughts of suicide?” or “Do you ever feel like life isn’t worth living?”
Assess the Risk: Ask direct questions to assess the severity of the situation. Anytime a person is actively experiencing suicidal thoughts, please use emergency resources by calling 911, 988, or directly going to your nearest Emergency Room. If you’re not sure, please always err on the side of caution and call 911 or 988 so that a professional can assist you. River Oaks Psychology is not an emergency responder and we urge everyone at experiencing any kind of emergency to always utilize emergency resources the earliest sign of crisis. We have also provided some crisis hotlines below.
Remove Immediate Danger: If the person is in immediate danger, do not leave them alone. Help them to remove any harmful objects from their vicinity and stay with them until you can get professional help involved.
Involve Trusted Individuals: If the situation is severe or imminent, reach out to a trusted family member, friend, or authority figure who can provide additional support. Let them know about the situation and work together to ensure the person’s safety.
Avoid promising secrecy: Emphasize that there are limits to confidentiality when someone’s safety is at risk. Encourage them to share their concerns with trusted professionals or loved ones who can provide support.
Follow Up and Offer Support: Even after the person has been connected to professional resources, check in with the person regularly to show that you genuinely care. Let them know that you are available to talk and provide ongoing support throughout their healing process.
Remember, your role is to provide support, NEVER to act as a substitute for professional help.
Below are some crisis hotlines:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988
- SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357)
- Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1)
- Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
- LGBTQ+ National Youth Talkline: 1-800-246-7743
- National Eating Disorders Association Helpline: 1-800-931-2237
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233)
- National Runaway Safeline: 1-800-RUNAWAY (1-800-786-2929)
- National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (1-800-950-6264)
- TrevorLifeline (LGBTQ+ Youth): 1-866-488-7386
- Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a trained Crisis Counselor
Written by Lauren Presutti