If you or someone you know is feeling down, there are steps you can take to prevent suicide. Preventing suicide involves a combination of behavioral, social, medical and environmental interventions that may occur at the individual, relationship, community or society level.
One important strategy is to reduce access to lethal means of self-harm. This includes restricting access to guns and medications. It also includes actions such as installing barriers on bridges and reducing the number of pesticides on public property.
1. Know the Warning Signs
Having knowledge of the warning signs of suicide will help you recognize a friend or family member who may be at risk. Knowing the warning signs can also allow you to connect with them and offer help if necessary.
Behavioral changes that could signal a suicidal individual include withdrawal from friends and family, increased rage or desire to harm themselves, lack of motivation in schoolwork or other activities, and speaking about wanting to die. These changes don’t always mean the person is thinking about taking their own life, but they should be watched for, according to Justin Baker and Charles Westfall of Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital in San Diego.
Parents, teachers and peers are often the best observers of sudden behavioral changes in a child or teen who is suicidal. These include withdrawing from regular activities, loss of interest in their appearance, disinterest in hygiene or schoolwork, or talking about death and suicide. These changes can be difficult to spot, but they should not be ignored, Roeske says.
2. Know How to Help a Friend
If you’re concerned that a friend is considering suicide, there are a number of things you can do to help them. Reaching out isn’t always easy, but it can make a big difference.
First, ask them a few questions to help you get a clear picture of their situation. These questions can tell you how imminent their risk is, and how serious they are about attempting suicide.
For example, someone who has already made a plan with the intent and means to follow through on it needs extra help right away (more on this in a moment). Also, those who are using drugs or alcohol might need extra support as well.
This might involve staying with them until you can get someone else there, or taking them to an emergency room. Whatever you decide, be sure to do it because you care about them and want to help.
3. Ask for Help
Asking for help is not always easy, and it can be a challenge to know when to ask. It’s a good idea to give yourself and your friend time to consider the request before you make it, and avoid asking when they are stressed or in an agitated mood.
Often, people who struggle with asking for help are concerned that asking will make them seem weak, or that they might have to sacrifice something they value in order to receive the assistance they need. While these concerns can be valid, it’s also important to remember that your needs are worth addressing.
If someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, talk to them about it as soon as possible. This will not push them into acting on their feelings, and it will give them an opportunity to talk about how they are feeling and to get the support they need.
4. Take Action
If you believe that someone you know is thinking about suicide, or has attempted it, take action to prevent their death. This can include asking them to call a suicide prevention hotline, taking them to a doctor’s appointment or helping them find mental health professionals to help them.
You can also help them by removing access to dangerous or lethal items such as guns, pills, or poisons. If they’re taking medication, follow-up to make sure they are still taking it correctly and that they have a safe place to store it.
Providing support to increase someone’s connectedness and reduce their isolation has been shown to be protective against suicide. This can be done through social programs that promote connectedness among specific population groups or through other activities that increase a person’s sense of belonging and emotional support.
Preventing suicide requires strategies that are at the individual, community, and national levels. Many communities are working to develop and implement suicide prevention best practices, using a public health approach. This includes enhancing community-based prevention efforts, promoting social change, and improving screening and risk detection.