It can be quite distressing to suspect that a loved one may be having suicidal thoughts. You may want to talk to them and try to help, but aren’t quite sure what to do. While you may not have all of the answers, opening up a dialogue, finding resources, and showing support can make all the difference. Below are 6 tips to support someone who is suicidal.
1. Know The Warning Signs
While it can be difficult to know if someone is contemplating suicide, there are common warning signs to look for. Someone who has made a previous suicide attempt or has experienced a traumatic event, or loss may be more likely to consider suicide. If your loved one has become withdrawn and isolated and avoids spending time with others, this can be a sign that they are having suicidal thoughts. Sleeping more or less than usual, or eating more or less than normal can be warning signs. Experiencing mood swings or changes in behavior, such as becoming more agitated or aggressive, may suggest your loved one is suicidal. When your loved one talks about feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness or that everyone would be better off without them, they might be thinking about suicide. Finally, if they begin giving their things away and have a dramatic shift from a severely depressed mood to an unusually happy mood, they may be planning a suicide attempt.
2. Start A Conversation
If you think that your loved one is having suicidal thoughts, it is important to talk to them about it. While having suicidal thoughts does not necessarily mean that they are going to attempt suicide, opening up the conversation can help them feel supported and understood, and may just save their life. Although it can be hard to know exactly what to say, pointing out the warning signs you’ve noticed can be a good place to start. You can point out that you have noticed that they seem sad and have been spending more time alone. This can help open up the conversation so they can safely and freely talk about their situation.
3. Ask Direct Questions
Once the conversation has started, feel free to ask more direct questions. You can ask them directly if they have thought about hurting themselves. Asking about suicide and whether or not they have a plan, can provide you with important information about your loved one. While some believe that talking about suicide might put the idea in their loved one’s head, this in fact is not true. Having an open dialogue about this subject gives them a chance to open up about their thoughts and feelings. By being direct yourself, you may encourage your loved one to openly share their struggles as well.
4. Listen Without Judgment
When they do start opening up, make sure to listen to try to understand, without judgment. Although it may be difficult to learn that your loved one is thinking about suicide, tell them that you will listen. Encourage them to share more, and let them know that you are there for them. You don’t have to understand exactly what they are experiencing to show empathy and support. Let them know that they are not alone and that they can talk to you. It is more helpful to listen than to give advice or try to talk them out of their feelings. However, you can offer to help them find more support.
5. Help Them Find Support
If your loved one is thinking about suicide, they may be feeling overwhelmed and could find it difficult to look for help. This is something that you can help them with. You can help them find a mental health professional and take them to their appointment if they are nervous about going alone. If they need to tell other family members or friends about what they are experiencing, you can offer to be there for support. You can give them the number to the national suicide hotline, 988, and call or text it with them. If you are concerned for their immediate safety, you can take them to the emergency room, or call 911. Even if you help them find other support, make sure you check in on them often.
6. Create A Safety Plan
Another way to help a loved one that is thinking about suicide, is to create a safety plan with them. A suicide safety plan is a written set of instructions for your loved one to follow if suicidal thoughts or ideation increase. List out the warning signs that you and your loved one notice when symptoms of depression or suicidal thoughts tend to get worse. For instance, a warning sign could be isolating and not taking care of themselves. Include things they can do to help calm down. They might exercise, listen to music, or belly breathe. Help them create a list of reasons to live. Such as, their pets or family. This list should also include things they are looking forward to in the future, like a trip or finishing school. Finally, include numbers of trusted family, friends, professionals, and hotlines like 988 that they can call if they need additional support. At the end of the safety plan you can add to call 911 if they are still feeling unsafe. While a safety plan is not a guarantee, it does provide a step-by-step plan to follow if suicidal thoughts increase.
If you are worried that a loved one may be suicidal, try to start a conversation using the above tips. Helping someone through this type of crisis can be mentally and emotionally difficult, so remember to practice good self-care. Although you can’t fix things for your loved one, you can be there for them and help them find the resources they need.