Suicide is a leading cause of premature death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 46,000 people died from suicide in 2020. Another 12.2 million adults seriously considered taking their own lives.
Knowing how to support someone who has thought about ending their life can be challenging. You may be afraid that talking with them could trigger a suicide attempt. But the opposite is true, says Jeffrey DeVore, LMSW, ACSW, ACT, a behavioral health social worker and psychotherapist at Henry Ford Health. You could actually save a life by letting someone know you care and want to help them find support.
“It’s important to move beyond the stigma surrounding suicide. Just as you’d help someone in physical pain, don’t hesitate to do the same for someone in mental pain,” DeVore emphasizes. “If everyone stepped forward to help those who’ve considered suicide, we could turn the tide on the suicide epidemic.”
Suicide Risk Factors
Suicide affects people of all ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds. While men are at higher risk than women, many other factors increase a person’s risk, including individuals who experience:
- Anxiety and depression
- Substance or alcohol addiction
- Death of a spouse, family member or close friend
- Loss of a job or financial security
- Acts of violence
Suicide Warning Signs
“One of the biggest misconceptions about suicide is that people discuss killing themselves to gain attention,” says DeVore. “That’s not the case. Many people considering suicide see it as the only way to escape their mental anguish.”
He recommends watching for these warning signs that someone is having suicidal thoughts and needs help:
- Direct verbal cues: Individuals may make statements about their plans to kill themselves.
- Indirect verbal cues: A person may comment that others will be better off without them or that life has become too difficult.
- Behavioral changes: A person may:
- Start saying goodbye to friends or family
- Suddenly make funeral arrangements or settle personal affairs
- Stockpile medications or purchase a gun
- Relapse into substance or alcohol abuse
How To Help Someone Who Is Suicidal
“If you see any of the above warning signs, it’s important to take action,” says DeVore. “Even if you are unsure whether a person is seriously considering harming themselves, it is best to approach them and let them know you’re there to help.”
He outlines three steps you can take to help a loved one or friend who is considering suicide:
- Start the conversation: Ask them about their thoughts and plans. Listen without judgment. Avoid promising to keep their feelings a secret.
- Offer help: Tell them they don’t have to deal with their challenges alone. There are many people available to provide the support they need. If they are hesitant to seek care, explain that many people benefit from psychotherapy.
- Connect them to care: Help your loved one or friend contact their physician or a therapist who can assess their condition and provide care. Offer to drive them to appointments. Contact other family members, clergy or trusted friends who can also help provide support.
“As you help someone considering suicide, be sure to continue to care for yourself,” says DeVore. “It will take time for your loved one or friend to get the help they need and feel better. In the meantime, turn to your support system to maintain your mental health.”
What To Do If Someone Is In Immediate Danger Of Taking Their Own Life
If you feel someone is in immediate danger of harming themselves, act quickly by:
- Calling 911 or 988, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Taking them to the closest hospital emergency room where a physician can examine them and refer them for appropriate care
- Telling emergency services or medical personnel if your loved one or friend has a gun or other weapons in their home
Jeffrey DeVore is a behavioral health social worker and psychotherapist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - Troy.