It can be frightening and intimidating when a loved one reveals or shows signs of suicidal thoughts. However, not taking thoughts of suicide seriously can have a devastating outcome. If you think your friend or family member will hurt herself or someone else, call 911 immediately. There are a few ways to approach this situation.
- Remove means such as guns, knives or stockpiled pills
- Calmly ask simple and direct questions, such as “Can I help you call your psychiatrist?” rather than, “Would you rather I call your psychiatrist, your therapist or your case manager?”
- Talk openly and honestly about suicide. Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?”
- If there are multiple people, have one person speak at a time
- Ask what you can do to help
- Don’t argue, threaten or raise your voice
- Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong
- If your loved one asks for something, provide it, as long as the request is safe and reasonable
- If you are nervous, try not to fidget or pace
- If your loved one is having hallucinations or delusions, be gentle and sympathetic, but do not get in an argument about whether the delusions or hallucinations are real
If you are concerned about suicide and don’t know what to do, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They have trained counselors available 24/7 to speak with either you or your loved one.
Even if your loved one isn't in a moment of crisis, you need to provide support. Let her know that she can talk with you about what she is going through. Make sure that you are actively and openly listening to the things she says. Instead of arguing with any negative statements that she makes, try providing positive reinforcement. Active listening techniques such as reflecting feelings and summarizing thoughts can help your loved one feel heard and validated. Furthermore, reassuring your loved one that you are concerned for her well-being will encourage her to lean on you for support.
One of the best things you can do if you know or suspect that your loved one is contemplating suicide is educate yourself. Learning about suicide, what the warning signs are, and how it can be prevented can help you understand what you need to do as a member of their support system.
If Possible, Be Prepared
If your friend or family member has had suicidal thoughts in the past, it's a good idea to have a crisis plan just in case. This means that you'll need to work together to develop the best course of action if a crisis situation should occur.