How To Help Someone At Risk Of Suicide
The pandemic has taken a heavy emotional toll on many people, and 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.
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.
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Source: NPR | How To Help Someone At Risk Of Suicide, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/04/20/707686101/how-to-help-someone-at-risk-of-suicide | © 2020 npr. Originally published in April, 2019. It has been updated and republished.
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