How To Help Someone At Risk Of Suicide

If  you know someone struggling with despair, depression or thoughts of suicide, you may be wondering how to help. You don’t have to be a trained professional to help, says Doreen Marshall, a psychologist and vice president of programs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Here are nine things you can do that can make a difference.

1. Recognize the warning signs

Signs of suicide risk to watch for include changes in mood and behavior, Marshall says.

2. Reach out and ask, “Are you OK?”

The website for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a list of do’s and don’ts when trying to help someone at risk.

3. Be direct: Ask about suicide

“Most people are afraid to ask about suicide, because they [think they] don’t want to put the thought in their head,” says Marshall. “But there’s no research to support that.”

4. Assess risk and don’t panic: Suicidal feelings aren’t always an emergency

For help with this conversation, psychiatrists at Columbia University have developed the Columbia Protocol, which is a risk-assessment tool drawn from their research-based suicide severity rating scale. It walks you through six questions to ask your loved one about whether they’ve had thoughts about suicide and about the means of suicide and whether they have worked out the details of how they would carry out their plan.

5. If it’s a crisis, stick around

Ask whether they have any means of harming themselves at hand and work with them to remove those things from their environment. Research shows that removing or limiting access to means reduces suicide deaths.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers this guide to the five action steps to take if someone you know is imminent danger.

6. Listen and offer hope

If the person is not in immediate risk, it is still important to listen to them, say survivors of suicide attempts like Lezine and DeGolier.

“The biggest thing is listening in an open-minded way, to not be judgmental,” says DeGolier.

The next step is to offer hope, says Whiteside. It helps to say things like, “I know how strong you are. I’ve seen you get through hard things. I think we can get through this together,” she explains.

7. Help your loved one make a safety plan

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a template for creating a safety plan. It includes making a list of the person’s triggers and warning signs of a coming crisis, people they feel comfortable reaching out to for help and activities they can do to distract themselves during those times — it can be something simple as watching a funny movie.

8. Help them tackle the mental health care system

When someone is in urgent crisis mode, it’s often not the best time to try to navigate the mental health care system, says DeGolier. But to prevent a future crisis, offer to help your loved one connect with a mental health professional to find out whether medications can help them and to learn ways to manage their mood and suicidal thinking.

A kind of talk therapy called dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, has been shown to be effective in reducing risk of suicide.

9. Explore tools and support online

For those struggling to access mental health care, there are some evidence-based digital tools that can also help.

For example, there’s a smartphone app called Virtual Hope Box, which is modeled on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. Research shows that veterans who were feeling suicidal and used the app were able to cope better with negative emotions.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. call or text 988 or chat on

Excerpted from “How To Help Someone At Risk Of Suicide” on NPR. Read the full article online for much more detail on each of the recommended strategies.

Listen to the podcast version of this story:

Source: NPR | How To Help Someone At Risk Of Suicide, | © 2020 npr. Originally published in April, 2019. It has been updated and republished.
CHC is here for you. Sign up for the CHC Virtual Village to receive weekly email updates about upcoming news, events and resources related to your interests.

A screening can help you determine if you or someone you care about should contact a mental health professional. CHC teletherapy services are available now.  Call or email our Care Managers at 650.688.3625 or to set up a free 30-minute consultation appointment.

You might also be interested in:

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,