Helping Someone with Suicidal Ideation
Through a few simple actions, you can help someone thinking about suicide or recovering from a suicide attempt. If someone tells you they are having suicidal thoughts, take it seriously. You don't have to be able to solve their problems. Be supportive and encourage them to talk about their feelings. People who have had suicidal thoughts often say they are relieved to be able to talk about what they've been through.
Most people can be helped in times of crisis if someone is willing to spend time with them, listen to them, take them seriously, and help them share their thoughts and feelings. Most suicidal people don't want death but a way to get through the horrific pain they're going through. Talking with someone can make a big difference. But you may have to persevere until they are willing to speak up.
Talking about suicide or suicidal thoughts won't make anyone suicidal. It's also not true that people who talk about suicide don't go through with it. Take any definite suicidal intent very seriously. While you may not be able to solve these problems for a friend or classmate, you can help them find someone who can.
What is Suicidal Ideation?
Suicidal ideation, or SI, is a term that describes a range of thoughts, desires, and preconceptions about death and suicide. If a doctor diagnoses someone with suicidal ideation, it means they are preoccupied with thoughts of suicide. Perhaps they often think about how they would kill themselves or what life would be like if they weren't there. When you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, it's essential to know the warning signs. The sooner you recognize these signs, the quicker you can find help.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. About one person dies by suicide every 11 minutes. It is the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 10-34. It is the 4th leading cause of death for ages 34-54 and the fifth leading cause for those 45-54. In many cases, suicide is preventable. Learn about risk factors and warning signs, including depression, personality changes, self-harm, recent life crises, and talking about dying. If family or friends talk about suicide, take it seriously. Listen without judgment and encourage them to seek professional help.
While you may not know what prompts a friend or loved one to commit suicide, there are at least some common traits to be aware of. Factors known to increase a person's risk of suicide include:
- Has attempted suicide in the past.
- Has mental health problems like depression and mood disorders, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders.
- Has long-term pain or disabling or terminal illness.
- Expresses hopelessness.
- Has money or legal issues.
- Is violent or impulsive.
- Has a problem with alcohol or other drug abuse.
- Has access to self-harm methods like firearms or drugs.
- A history of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, neglect, or bullying.
- Lost relationships due to separation, divorce, or death.
- There is a family history of suicide.
- Social isolation; lack of support.
Community, Cultural, and Social
- Shy about asking for help, especially if you have a mental illness.
- Lack of access to medical services, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment.
- A culturally or religiously strong belief that suicide is a noble alternative to a personal plight.
- Be aware of increased local suicides or increased media coverage of suicide deaths.
Warning Signs of Suicide
Here are a few warning signs that someone you know is considering ending their life:
- Talking about death: Not everyone who thinks about suicide says it, and not everyone who threatens suicide actually does it. However, you should take any suicide threat seriously.
- Exhibiting dangerous or self-harming behavior: The person engages in potentially risky behavior like reckless driving or increased drug and alcohol use.
- A state of hopelessness: The person talks about having no reason to live, feeling hopeless, or being a burden to others.
- Changes in personality, appearance, and sleep patterns: Changes in the person's attitude or behavior. They are talking or moving at unusual speeds. They are less concerned about their appearance. Sleep patterns change (more sleep or less sleep).
- Disengagement from others: The person chooses to be alone, avoiding friends or social activities. They also lose interest or enjoyment in activities they previously enjoyed.
- Sadness or moodiness: The person experiences chronic sadness and mood swings.
- Getting ready: The person starts to organize his personal affairs. This can include visiting friends and family, gifting personal items, making a will, and tidying up their home.
Helping Prevent a Suicide
In many cases, suicide is preventable. The best ways to prevent suicide are to:
- Know the risk factors for suicide.
- Watch for signs of depression and other mental illnesses.
- Recognize suicide warning signs.
- Provide caring support.
- Ask the person directly if they have ever considered harming themselves.
- People supported by caring friends and family who have access to mental health care are less likely to respond to suicidal urges than those who do not.
Call the Suicide Hotline
If your friend or loved one is discussing suicide and exhibits risk factors for harming themselves, take them seriously. If possible, remove any items one could use in a suicide attempt. Please encourage them to call support services such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call together: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Interviews are conducted by qualified, trained counselors, are free and confidential, and are available 24/7.
When you call the Lifeline, you will receive an automated greeting with additional options. You won't speak with a live individual immediately, so be patient. After selecting from a few options, you will be transferred to a local crisis center. Music will play. Wait times are usually less than a minute but can be longer, depending on the center's resources.
The hotline consists of 161 crisis centers across the U.S. Most crisis centers are not-for-profit and staffed by professionals and volunteers. When someone calls, they are routed to the nearest crisis center.