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How to Support Someone Who May Be Considering Suicide

How to Support Someone Who May Be Considering Suicide

Talking about suicide is scary and difficult for a lot of people. It is normal to be unsure how to approach the topic, but it is important to have a conversation with people who may be thinking of ending their own life. Suicide rates increased by 36 percent between 2000 and 2021, and the only way to prevent suicide is to recognize when someone is considering it. At Palms Behavioral Health in Harlingen, Texas, we want to give you the tools to help people you encounter who might be struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Risk Factors for Suicide

Certain events or personality traits can place some people at increased risk for suicide attempts. These include:

  • In the past:
    • Friends or family members who killed themselves
    • Their own suicide attempts 
    • Mental health diagnoses, especially mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder
    • Physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • Currently
    • Sense of loneliness, isolation, hopelessness
    • Significant physical or chronic illnesses
    • Impulsivity or aggression
    • Big losses – job, money, relationships
    • Clusters of suicide in their local area or witnessing a lot of death in their job due to being a police officer, healthcare worker, member of the military, etc.
    • Lack of healthcare, especially for their mental health
    • Self-harm behaviors

Warning Signs

Often after someone has taken their life, survivors will say that they had no idea they were thinking about killing themselves. While it is possible that there were no indicators of the person’s intent, around 50-75 percent of people who attempt suicide give someone around them a warning sign first. It may be that loved ones didn’t know what to look for or that they did not take the threat seriously. These are some signs that a person may be considering suicide:

  • Talking or writing about:
    • Death or dying 
    • Being a burden to others
    • Their loved ones being better off without them
    • Feeling rage, sadness, emptiness, trapped, guilt, shame, unbearable emotional or physical pain
    • Having no purpose
  • Researching ways to die and gathering or attempting to gather items they could use to end their life, such as weapons, medication, or rope
  • Fixation on revenge
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, school, work, or other relationships
    • Spending more time alone
    • Saying goodbye like they will never see people again
  • Wrapping up loose ends
    • Giving away cherished possessions
    • Making a will
  • Changes
    • Mood – especially if they become more angry, sad, or suddenly very calm or happy after a long period of anger or sadness
    • Behavior – particularly increases in reckless behavior like unsafe driving, unsafe sexual activity, and heavy substance use
    • Sleep patterns
    • Appetite
    • Appearance – declines in hygiene or grooming habits
    • Recent trauma in their life

How to Help

If you recognize risk factors or warning signs in someone you love, then it is time to take action. There are several ways that you support a person who is considering taking their life.

  • Talk to the person. Ask them if they are having thoughts of suicide. If they aren’t, your questions aren’t going to inspire an attempt. Often, people who are suicidal are relieved to be able to talk about how they have been feeling.
  • Secure their safety. If someone tells you they are thinking about killing themselves, ask if they have a plan for how they would end their life. If they are willing to share their plan, try to remove their access to the items they would need to act on the plan. This might mean finding someone to hold onto extra pills, sharp objects, or firearms or finding a way to lock up those items so that they are not accessible. Stay with the person or arrange for someone else to be with them until the urge passes.
  • Reach out for help. Depending on the specifics of the situation, there are several different ways to get professional support.
    • Call or text 988 – this will connect you to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, where a trained crisis counselor can help you or the person you’re worried about make a plan for staying safe.
    • Utilize specialized supports. For certain groups, such as LGBT young people, transgender people or Veterans, there are specialized supports available with professionals who understand their unique life experiences.
    • Contact their providers – if the person has a therapist or psychiatrist who they trust and you can stay with them until they can be seen, then it may be helpful for you to assist them in reaching out to that clinician for an urgent appointment.
    • Call 911 or drive them to the ER – if you don’t feel capable of keeping the person safe or they refuse to develop a plan to stay safe, then you need to get them immediate professional support.

At Palms Behavioral Health, we offer inpatient and outpatient treatment for adolescents, adults, families, and seniors. Our caring staff is trained to support people who struggle with suicidal ideation and their loved ones.

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