Editor's Note: This story discusses suicide, and if that's a difficult topic for you, please feel free to click away from this story.
If you or someone you know is in danger and in need of immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained Crisis Text Line crisis counselor.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide is a heavy topic, but the world would be a better place if we were all more equipped on how to talk about it. This month is a great time to make sure you're prepared to help someone who shares with you that they have contemplated or are contemplating suicide.
If someone does share their suicidal thoughts with you, you may feel a lot of pressure to respond "correctly", but first and foremost remember: them sharing this with you is positive thing, and you now have the opportunity to help.
In collaboration with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), here are some ways you can be there to support someone who's contemplating suicide:
Listen and ShowYour Support
Chances are, if someone is sharing with you about their mental health or thoughts of suicide, they really trust you. Reassure them that you hear what they are saying, are taking it seriously, that you’re there with them, and that you care.
Rather than dominating the conversation, or trying to fix anything right away — listen actively and show empathy for what they're going through.
AFSP recommends saying something like:
“I’m so glad you’re telling me abouthow much has been going on, and how you’re feeling. Thank you for sharing this with me.”
“I love you no matter what, and we’re going to get through this together.”
Encourage Them to Keep Talking
Keep the conversation going. Let them know you want to hear m fore about how they’re feeling, and what they’re going through.
Express curiosity and interest in the details of what they're experiencing. Ask about changes in their life, and how they’re coping.
“That situation sounds really difficult.”
“How did that make you feel when that happened?”
“Have these thoughts led to any specific changes in your life, like trouble sleeping, or keeping up at work?”
If what you're hearing from someone makes you think they're thinking about suicide, trust your gut and ask them directly.
A common myth in suicide prevention is that bringing it up increases suicidal tendencies, but research shows the exact opposite. It will not put the idea in their head, or push them into action. Often, they’ll be relieved someone cares enough to hear about their experience.
Make sure to not sound like you’re passing judgement or guilt-trip them. Reassure them that you understand and care.
“Does it ever get so tough that you think about ending your life?”
“I really care about you, and I want you to know you can tell me anything.”
(Don't say things like, “You’re not thinking of doing something stupid, are you?” or “Think of what it would do to your parents.”)
How to Respond If They Are Thinking About Suicide
If the person says they are contemplating suicide — stay calm. Just because someone is having thoughts of suicide, doesn’t mean they’re in immediate danger. Calmly listen to what they have to say, and ask some follow-up questions.
“How often are you having these thoughts?”
“When it gets really bad, what doyou do?”
“What scares you about these thoughts?”
“What do you need to do to feel safe?”
Suggest Professional Help
Having this supportive conversation makes such a huge difference, but you’re not a mental health professional.
If the person you care about has told you they’re thinking of suicide, it’s a warning sign that they should speak with someone.
The person may feel shame or stigma around getting therapy or professional help, but you can help break these harmful stereotypes down.
Lots of people — proactively and reactively — talk to a therapist or mental health professional. Talk to them about the benefits of talking to someone professionally trained to help people experiencing what they are.
“I hear you that you’re struggling, and I think it would be helpful for you to talk to someone who can help you through this.”
“You know, therapy isn’t just for serious, “clinical” problems. It can help any of us process any challenges we’re facing – and we all face serious stuff sometimes.”
Help Them Connect with Help
When someone is already struggling, the idea of navigating insurance, or researching professionals in your area can seem even more challenging or discouraging.
Sometimes the initial phone call to reach out and schedule an appointment can be the hardest part of getting professional help.
Offer to help them take those steps however you feel comfortable.
“I could call your insurance with you, or go online to find a mental health professional or substance use program. Or I could sit with you while you do it. We can figure it out together.”
“I could drive or walk you to your appointment. Then we could have coffee afterwards.”
Address Privacy Concerns
If the person you care about is worried others will find out they’re getting treatment, you can reassure them their concerns are mostly unfounded.
And if they ask you not to tell anyone, remind them how much you care for them and their safety, which may involve asking others for help. Tell them you want them involved in the conversation and that you’ll be as discreet as possible.
“Mental health treatment actually has even greater confidentiality safeguards than physical health treatment.”
How to Respond if They Refuse Help from You or a Professional
It’s okay if they say "no" to your help, or the help of a professional — not everyone is ready right away.
If they aren’t in immediate danger, be patient and don’t push too hard. Make sure you remember (or set yourself a reminder!) to check in on them in periodically, so they are reminded that someone is there for them if they need it.
“It’s okay that it doesn’t sound like you’re ready yet. I really hope you’ll think about it. Just let me know if you change your mind, and I can help you connect with someone.”
If They Are in Immediate Danger
1. Stay with them.
2. Help remove lethal means.
4. Encourage them to seek help — or to contact their doctor or therapist.
Other Ways to Make a Difference
Thanks to the work of organizations like AFSP, Crisis Text Line, To Write Love on Her Arms, and so many others, the stigma around mental illness is being broken, incredible progress has been made in suicide prevention, and there are more opportunities than ever before to join in the work of suicide prevention.
Donate to support organizations supporting mental health.
Consider giving a financial donation to the organizations listed above or seek out other mental health nonprofits that you personally connect with.
Read good mental health news.
At Good Good Good we help you feel more hopeful and do more good. Check our our Mental Health stories here on our site where we cover the innovative and creative ways people are making a positive difference for mental health — and also tips, tricks, and recommendations on how you can join in and make a difference for yourself and for others.
When you find a story that helps you, share it. The world needs more good news.
Sign up as a volunteer to help people during a crisis.
You can also become a volunteer crisis counselor with Crisis Text Line. They'll give you training and you'll be able to work remotely and help people around the world. You can apply here.
Add crisis numbers to your phone's contacts.
Preemptively add the phone numbers for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Crisis Text Line to your contacts. (Clicking these links will add these to your contacts automatically.) It'll take 45 seconds and could save a life.
Get involved during awareness weeks and months.
All year long there are cause-oriented holidays and awareness weeks and months centered around mental health — and they're great opportunities to make a difference. Check out Good Good Good's Awareness Days Calendar and Good Good Good's Disability Awareness Days Calendar.
Share helpful resources.
Lastly, the world would be a better place if more people got the mental health support they need and if more people were equipped to provide mental health support.
By bookmarking and sharing helpful resources (like this article), you can make a meaningful difference in the lives of loved ones and strangers.