September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Because suicide is the second leading cause of death in people aged 15 to 34, and within the top ten leading causes of death for all ages, we all need to know the signs and how to help someone who may be at risk for suicide.
Research shows us that most people who attempt suicide give some sort of clue before they make an attempt. Therefore, understanding the words and/or actions of someone considering suicide can save a life. Learn how to recognize those signs and how to respond to them.
How can you be aware of warning signs of suicide in those in your life?
- Listen to those around you. People who are considering suicide often talk about it to someone in their life ahead of time. If someone says they’re feeling trapped, are a burden to others, or have no reason to live, ask them whether they’ve thought about suicide. Take them seriously and help them get to resources that could save their life.
- Be aware of others’ moods. If someone in your life seems to be feeling depressed, irritable, angry or has lost interest in things that they used to care about, they may be struggling with depression.
- Notice people’s behaviors. If someone is acting recklessly, increasing their use of drugs or alcohol, has unusual sleep habits, or is looking for means to kill him or herself, you should have a conversation about suicide. Asking someone about suicide won’t put the idea in their mind, but it might be your chance to help connect them to resources they need.
How do you talk to someone in your life about suicide? Screening for Mental Health has developed the acronym ACT for a simple way for people to remember how to respond when someone opens up to you about suicidal thoughts. ACT stands for Acknowledge, Care, Tell.
- Acknowledge. Validate rather than dismiss their thoughts and feelings. It can be difficult for someone to bring up suicidal thoughts, and if you don’t take them seriously, they may shut down and not come to you again.
- Care. Show that you care by listening carefully and taking what they say seriously. It might be hard for you to hear, but listen without judgment. You can’t help them if you don’t know what they’re experiencing. It might also be good to ask them how you can help. You may not know what to do, and they may not either, but offering to help and asking what they need can be a great first step in showing that you care that they’re here and stay here.
- Tell/Treatment. You can help them get treatment by offering to accompany them, or suggesting a step they can take. But you also may not be the best person to get your friend or family member the help they need. If not, you may need to tell someone in the person’s life what is going on.
Suicide is most often caused by untreated mental health disorders that could be managed if the individual gets help. Whether you’re close with the person in distress or not – reach out and offer help. You don’t know how much they might need you to do so. For more information about recognizing when someone is at risk of suicide and ways you can help, visit StopASuicide.org.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.