by Carrie Baatz
If someone in your life is suicidal or showing signs that they might be suicidal, you can help them stay safe. By being there for them, having some supportive tools and knowing the right resources, you can offer the hope that they need to recover.1
If my loved one is at risk for suicide, how can I keep them safe?
- Do not leave the person alone. Keep in contact with them, and stay with them if you can. If you know other safe people in the person’s life, coordinate with them to ensure the person is not left alone.
- Create an environment that is soothing and peaceful for the person. Bring them to a quiet room where they feel safe, if possible. Try playing some natural sounds, like ocean waves. If they like music, put on their favorite songs.
- Help the person think about people or things that have given them comfort in the past. This might include a pet, book, television show, doctor, mental health worker, friend, family member or a community group.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- Text the Crisis Text Line: 741741
- If the person needs mental health services or support, reach out to local resources. Learn about Suicide Prevention Resources in El Paso County.
- If you see immediate risk of harm, call 911.
What can I say to help?
At times, I have found myself searching hard for the right thing to say to someone who is deeply suffering. Over time I have learned that there are no magic words that will make everything better. While we want to offer as much empathy as we can, we can’t know exactly what the person is feeling. We also can’t make promises to fix their situations – we rarely have that power.
If you are in doubt, simple sincerity goes a long way. Here are a few supportive things you can say:
- “I care, and I want to help you.”
- “I am here for you, no matter what.”
- “I am not judging you.”
- “You can tell me anything, and I will hear you.”
- “You don’t have to talk if you aren’t ready.”
- Validate that suicidal thoughts happen to a lot of people. They are often associated with mental health conditions. The pain they are feeling has a legitimate source, and there is hope for help.
- Ask questions to help the person explore what is going on for them internally.
- Active listening is powerful. When we decide to accept a person and allow them the space to talk, we give them a gift. We are receiving them for who they are. At my lowest points, I have been lucky enough to know people who took the time to draw me out. It is a huge relief to talk openly about pain with someone without being judged.
- Avoid saying blaming, dismissing or threating things, even if you feel frustrated. Hearing statements like, “You’re being selfish,” “Stop being dramatic,” or “You’ll go to hell,” will escalate the person’s feelings of desperation and hopelessness.
What if the person doesn’t want help?
A person may not want to seek professional help. They may be financially stressed, uncomfortable with mental health professionals, or not ready to take a particular step. Understandably, people can be afraid of being hospitalized. Respect the person’s right to choose the form of help that works for them. They might refuse your help. If they do, let them know that if they change their mind, they can contact you. If you believe that they are in danger of harm, seek additional support, or call 911.
Take care of you
When someone you care about is in crisis, it may feel like you are carrying a heavy burden, or like your world is falling apart. You might feel scared, frustrated, hurt or exhausted by the person’s actions.
It’s important for you to recognize your own needs. Give yourself a break if you need one. Make time to rest and do the things that make you happy. Reach out for support. Sharing your honest thoughts and feelings with a safe person will help you feel lighter.
Keep in mind, every experience with suicidal struggles is unique. Our relationship dynamics with a person who is suicidal play a large role in the way we respond. For example, the way you would help your child might be very different from the way you would approach your partner, parent, friend or co-worker. Our ability to support a person depends on a number of factors, including the health of our relationship with them, and the degree of safety that we feel with them.
You may have limits in your ability to help someone, and it’s okay to acknowledge what they are. If you are feeling overwhelmed, remember that it’s not your responsibility to solve your loved one’s problems. You don’t have to know all the answers. Avoid the temptation to counsel the person by yourself. Instead, empower the person to find ways to help themselves. A first step might be finding something to do that makes them feel better, or they may want to connect with local mental health resources.
You are not alone
At The Independence Center, we welcome people who are experiencing mental health challenges and their caregivers. We offer free Peer Support groups and mentoring. To learn more, call us at 719-471-8181.
If you need a space to relate to people who have loved ones living with mental health conditions, you can check out NAMI’s free classes and support groups. NAMI’s programs serve people living with mental health challenges and their loved ones.
Click here to learn more about Suicide Prevention and Support Resources in El Paso County.
For more information about suicide and the warning signs to look for, read:
1 I am a certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor, and in this blog I draw heavily from the Mental Health First Aid course materials. If you want to learn more about how to respond to people with mental health challenges, think about taking a Mental Health First Aid Class. (Classes are available for responding to youth and adults.) To learn more, visit www.mhfaco.org.