Like all matters of health, both physical and psychological, preventative care is far superior to acute care. This is especially true with suicide, as once someone has gone through with it, there is nothing that can undo the decision. When faced with friend, family member, or colleague who is considering suicide, it can be hard to know what to say and do to help. I wanted to use this space to provide a list of Do’s and Don’ts of suicide prevention.
- Recognize Signs that Someone May Be Considering Suicide
- An individual stops attending events and activities
- An individual becomes socially reclusive
- An individual openly talks about feelings of worthlessness, feeling like a burden to others, or struggling to find reasons to live
- An individual begins giving away their possessions
- Changes in sleep patterns (increases or decreases in sleep)
- Increased substance use (as this is often a coping mechanism)
- Acting aggressively
- A very sudden improvement in mood after long term depression or anxiety
- Reach Out to People You Identify as Struggling
- Ask them how they are doing
- Offer social and emotional support by asking them if they need help and letting them know that you care about them
- Directly ask them if they are considering suicide. This is not time to beat around the bush, be clear and direct without using flowery language.
- Ask them if they have a plan to commit suicide.
- Evaluate the Risk of Suicide and Act
- An individual is considered high risk if: they have suicidal thoughts and a plan for how they would do it, have written a suicide note, have begun giving their belongings away, or are engaging in self harm
- If an individual is at high risk, you should talk with them about seeking help from a hospital or counselor (It is always best to encourage them to do so voluntarily, but if they are unwilling you should call emergency services).
- If an individual is not at high risk, you should continue to support them emotionally, encourage and offer to help them set up an appointment with a counselor, continue to check in, and be a supportive friend to them.
- Act surprised or shocked when an individual shares that they have been having suicidal thoughts (this only makes them feel worse)
- Act judgemental or question the morality of suicide
- Belittle their experiences (This includes comparing their life struggles with your own, telling them that their experiences are not too bad, telling them not to talk about suicide)
- use damaging phrases outlined here https://www.childandadolescent.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/What-Not-to-Say.pdf
- Leave a high risk individual alone