When your loved ones are going through a difficult time, it's only natural to want to help. If your friend has a cold, you might bring them soup. Or if your brother broke his leg, you might offer to help clean up around the house.
But oftentimes, when someone is struggling with their mental health, it can be hard to know what to say or do—especially if you think your loved one is at risk for suicide.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 to speak confidentially with a trained counselor. Available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
Talking to a loved one about suicide can be scary, but that doesn't mean you can't help. By learning more about causes, signs, and available support, you can help decrease the stigma around mental health and know more about suicide prevention.
What can make someone at a higher risk for suicide?
There is no one reason that someone may consider suicide or make a suicide attempt. Multiple emotional, social and environmental factors can increase someone's risk.
Someone may be at a higher risk for suicide if they are experiencing:
- Mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, or substance use disorders (among others).
- Difficult life events such as a recent divorce, bullying, loss, or even someone else's suicide.
- A personal or family history of suicide.
Reaching out early—and letting someone know you're there for them, can make them feel more comfortable opening up to you if they are struggling with their mental health.
How can you tell if someone might be at risk for suicide?
People who are at risk for suicide often report feeling hopeless—and may feel like preventing suicide is hopeless, too.
Preventing suicide is possible, and it takes all of us looking out for and noticing warning signs in the people we know, love, and interact with every day.
Someone you know may be at risk for suicide if they:
- Often talk about wanting to kill themselves or die
- Mention that they feel hopeless, trapped, or have no reason to live anymore
- Tell you they feel like they are a burden to the people around them
- Isolate themselves or withdraw from the people and things they love
- Are showing signs of extreme mood swings
- Increase their alcohol and drug usage
- Are behaving recklessly or taking risks they wouldn't usually take
- Sleeping a lot more or less than normal
- Call you or other loved ones to say goodbye
"You may be more likely to notice some of these risks than others," says Leslie Lipson, LCSW, Director, Women's Emotional Wellness Center at Main Line Health. "For example, you may know that a friend is being bullied or that a family member recently lost their job. Just because they are going through difficult situations doesn't mean that they are thinking about suicide, but it is always a good idea to check in on your loved ones when they are experiencing challenging events."
Some of these signs are things you may notice and some may be things that your loved one actually brings up in conversation. Knowing what these signs are can help you be prepared to offer support when it's needed the most.
In 2020, 45,979 people died from suicide in the US—making suicide one of the leading causes of death.
What should you do if someone tells you they are suicidal?
If you notice that someone is showing signs that they may be at risk of suicide—or if they tell you directly—don't panic. It might feel overwhelming to hold this information, but it can actually be a perfect opportunity to show them support.
Don't be afraid to ask them questions about how they're feeling, what they're going through—or even of being direct and asking them if they're thinking about suicide.
Ask open-ended follow-up questions, really listen to what your loved one has to say, and don't be judgmental about what they're feeling. If they're open to having this conversation with you, it means they trust you. Telling them suicide is stupid or making them feel guilty about the people they would leave behind can lead them to shut down—and shut you out.
Instead, validate their struggle, don't belittle their feelings, and—if they're ready—offer to help them get connected with other resources like a hotline, a mental health professional, or their support system. You and your loved one aren't in this alone. Many people experience thoughts of suicide, but help and support is available.
Together, we can prevent suicide.
There are many reasons that people don't feel comfortable asking for help or talking about suicide. Suicide is seen as the answer to a problem and unbearable pain. The guilt and shame carried by those who feel suicidal contributes to their feelings of worthlessness and hopeless.
They may feel as though they are the only ones who contemplate or have attempted suicide. They may feel that they have failed themselves or their families.
This couldn't be farther from the truth—and this belief can stop people from getting support when they need it most.
Suicide is a national health crisis—and that makes addressing it all of our responsibility. Whether you are a health professional or a coach, a teacher or a parent, a family member or a friend, we all have the power to support each other and to reduce suicide in our communities and country.
Main Line Health offers behavioral health services, providing comprehensive support that ranges from professional counseling for mood disorders, to treatment for addiction, to crisis intervention, and so much more.
With in-house psychologists and counselors embedded in several primary care practices, specialized services for women at two wellness centers, inpatient and outpatient treatment centers for substance use disorders and mental health concerns, and an inpatient psychiatric unit, expert human care is close to home.