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How to help someone who is thinking about suicide

July 05, 2022

Mental Health Wellness Parenting
Depressed teenager looking away while talking to his therapist

If you believe someone is about to act on their thoughts of suicide, take them to your local emergency room or call 911 now. Do not leave them alone.

Suicide rates increased by 30% between 2000 to 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rates did decline in 2019 and 2020, but suicide is still a leading cause of death in the United States, with nearly 46,000 deaths in 2020. The CDC says this is about one death by suicide every 11 minutes.

The sharp increase in suicide rates over the last 20 years is shocking. But what’s even more shocking is we still think of suicide as taboo.

“Suicide isn’t uncommon. In fact, it’s the second leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 14 and 25 to 34,” says Ryan Mcqueen, M.D., Service Line Chief of Behavioral Health and Medical Director of Adolescent Service at Riverside Behavioral Health Center. “We need to stop dismissing it and start taking it more seriously.”

Dr. McQueen says that understanding that suicide happens more often than we think should encourage us to reach out to someone as soon as we think something is wrong. He shares the following tips for helping someone who’s thinking about suicide.

The most important thing you can do to help? Talk about it

When something is taboo, it means society avoids it. It’s “forbidden.” People don’t talk about it.

As a traditionally taboo subject, suicide isn’t talked about very often — if at all. But experts say this is not helpful to those who are contemplating suicide. We should be talking about it.

“Asking a person if they’re thinking about suicide can save their life,” Dr. McQueen says.

Yes, this is a scary question to ask your loved one. You’ll have to be brave. Take a deep breath and know that this is one of the best ways to help.

“If they seem ‘off’ or your inner voice is saying to worry, trust your feelings and just ask them if they’ve thought about suicide. That’s the first step to helping someone,” says Dr. McQueen.

What to do next

After you’ve asked your loved one if they’ve thought about suicide, here’s what to do next:

1. No matter their answer, help them find help. In every community, mental health providers and religious or spiritual leaders are trained to help those with depression or thoughts of suicide. National telephone hotlines exist, too. Create a list of these resources. Share it with them. If they’re willing, help them make an appointment with a therapist or counselor.

2. Be there for them. Tell them they can always come to you when they need support — someone to talk to or even just to hug, with no judgement. Check in on them every day. Go with them to their therapy or counseling appointments if they permit it. Help them find comfort in the little things in life — ask them to go on a walk with you or for a drive through the country, for example. And keep talking.

3. Make sure they have a safe place to rest and food to eat and that they feel safe and supported at work or school. One single event doesn’t lead to suicide. Multiple factors cause it. However, the CDC says that a person is more likely to attempt suicide during times of economic instability or when they don’t have a system of support at home and work. Examples of a system of support at home could mean ridding the home of firearms or locking up medications or alcohol. Examples of a system of support at work or school could mean implementing programs that encourage seeking help for thoughts of suicide and teaching about suicide awareness.

4. Keep checking in. Even if the person has completed therapy or rehab and says they’re doing better, stay connected. A person is less likely to suffer from depression and attempt suicide when they have strong social connections. Make it part of your routine to call or visit at least once a week and invite them to healthy social events like religious services and group fitness classes.

Resources for suicide prevention

These resources for suicide prevention are a good starting place for helping someone who’s thinking about suicide. We’ve included both local and national sources of help and information.

Local help:

To read:

National help hotlines:

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline now at 1-800-273-8255. This is a free service, available 24/7 for anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

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