How to Talk to a Loved One if They Are Suicidal

Every September is Suicide Prevention Month and on September 10th of each year, it is World Suicide Prevention Day. According to experts, people feel relieved when someone who cares reaches out to them when they are feeling suicidal. Suicide is preventable and here is how you can talk to your loved one or friend in a way that is compassionate and helpful.

Suicide Statistics

According to SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education):

Every day, over 120 Americans die by suicide.

There is one death by suicide in the United States every 12 minutes.

Depression affects 20-25 percent of Americans over the age of 18 in a given year.

Suicide takes the lives of almost 45K Americans every year.

But there are also good statistics such as:

An estimated quarter million people each year become suicide survivors 

80-90 percent of people who seek treatment for depression are treated successfully using therapy and/or medication.

When a Loved One is Suicidal

When someone you care about is suicidal, you may be at a loss on what to do or where to start to help them. Some people want to think that the person is simply seeking attention but that is not always the case. In fact, it is untrue that those who talk about it won’t do it. This is why it is important to listen with compassion and take appropriate action.

The Signs Someone Is Suicidal

Not everyone who is suicidal will reach out to you and we realize you are not a mental health professional. But this is why it is important to know the signs. There are a couple of areas where there are specific signs and one is life situations and the other is certain times in a person’s life. For example, here are some of the situations in a person’s life that may affect the potential for suicide.

Life Situations

Depression is a big component for those who are suicidal. If someone you love is depressed or lives with clinical depression, this is a sign that may contribute to their feelings of hopelessness.

Terminal illness or the death of someone close to them is a stressor that may contribute to their mental well-being.

Losses are particularly stressing. This includes losing a job, losing money, losing a home, or personal security. Even those who suffer from a loss of self-esteem or status may feel the pressure to attempt suicide. And it is imperative that you understand that someone you might think is not that serious can be very serious to someone else.

Alcohol or drug use is a contributory factor.

Issues with health is another factor for those who may feel they want to die. This does not even have to be a real threat. Even those who believe that they have a health issue are just as vulnerable as those who actually do.

Another major factor is a breakup. This can be a divorce or separation but it can be the breakup of a dating partner or even a close friendship that distresses the person thinking about suicide.

Specific Times

It is not always life situations that are the stressor. Even certain times in a person’s life can be a trigger. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

Anniversaries and holidays.

The diagnosis of a major health issue is particularly stressful and this includes during the diagnosis and right after. A good example is those with a cancer diagnosis. Right after the diagnosis, the numbers are higher for suicide attempts. Even more so than after the cancer has spread.

And when it comes to health issues, the first week after leaving the hospital for a health issue is where some are most prone. This may be due to feelings of mortality or being depressed over the illness, even after treatment.

Disciplinary proceedings are another area that affects some and this is especially true during and right before these proceedings.

And for those who are getting help with their depression, right after starting on antidepressants the person is most vulnerable.

Be Aware of Emotional and Behavioral Changes

A person who is in a suicidal state of mind may exhibit changes in their emotions and behavior. This includes emotions of pain, fear, hopelessness, powerlessness, and worthlessness.

The behavioral changes to be aware of include:

  • Becoming withdrawn
  • No interest in the things they otherwise enjoy like being with friends, certain activities, and even sex
  • Mood changes such as being sad, angry, having emotional outbursts, and apathy
  • Not caring about their appearance
  • Sleeping or eating habit changes
  • Not performing well in school or at work

Types of Suicide Risk Factors

According to Very Well Mind:

There are two different types of suicide risk factors: proximal risk factors and distal risk factors.

Proximal risk factors are immediate signs that signal that a suicide attempt may take place such as recent suicidal thoughts, feelings of hopelessness, recent stressful life events, access to firearms, and learning about someone else dying by suicide.

Distal factors are background issues or events that can increase the risk of suicide such as comorbid psychiatric conditions, a family history of suicide, and a history of previous suicide attempts.

How to Talk and/or Help a Loved One

One of the first things to do is to know if the threat is immediate or imminent. For instance, if your loved one is attempting to commit suicide it is imperative to call 911 immediately. For those in imminent danger, remove anything they can use to harm themselves such as firearms, pills, or razors. You can also take the person to the emergency room to be evaluated. That is, if it’s safe to do so.

If you feel that the threat is not imminent, there are also things that you can do to help your loved one.

First of all, make sure that you share your support with them. It is crucial not to pass judgment or to dismiss their feelings. Remember that they cannot help these feelings and it is a myth that those who talk about suicide won’t do it. It is true that some never mention feeling that way and still die by suicide. Yet, there are many others who talk about it and actually carry out the threat so be sure you listen either way – with compassion and love.

Another important thing to do is to simply listen. Many times someone who wishes to die by suicide needs someone to simply listen to them and it can make all the difference in the world. Whether they are angry, sad, or lonely,the important thing is to be open-minded and hear what they have to say. Venting about what they are feeling is conducive to feeling better. It may not be the cure for their troubles but it certainly helps.

Use your heart. What this means is to be yourself and be open to saying what you mean from your heart. People can spot if you’re not being genuine so allow yourself to take down the guards and to be open with your loved one. Allow them to be themselves too. Cry together if you need, or just be there. Most importantly, studies have shown that by people showing acknowledgment, it can minimize the feelings of suicide and help lessen the thoughts of suicide.

Don’t be afraid to be open with your questions. If you feel you need to ask if the person feels suicidal, do it. More studies show that asking this question will not increase their chances of doing it. In fact, it is helpful. If the person you asked answers with an affirmative answer, there is more that you need to ask. Ask if they have thought about the manner in which they would do it. Ask if they have what it is they need to do it. And ask them when they plan to do it.

While these seem like very hard-hitting questions, you may find out that the person does not have definitive plans It helps inform you if they are not in immediate danger and of course, it helps you determine if they are. For instance, a person who states a time, how they will do it, and more seems to be in immediate danger and if so, you need to get help immediately from 911. Even if they have no thought-out plan, this is still a serious situation and it is important to talk to them about getting help.





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