Despite stigma and taboos, suicide is preventable. Preventing suicide requires strategies at the individual, family, and community levels.
Dramatic changes such as withdrawing from friends or family, avoiding people, a sudden interest in guns and access to weapons, lack of concern about appearance or hygiene can be warning signs of suicide.
Talking is the first step.
Suicide affects people from all walks of life, cultures and socioeconomic statuses. It can be difficult to know what to do, but talking is the first step. Educating yourself about warning signs and risk factors, then being courageous and having a conversation is key.
Ask if they are having suicidal thoughts and listen without judgment. If they are, do not make them promise you will not tell anyone, because telling someone could save their life.
Help them establish immediate safety by asking if they have means to kill themselves at hand and work with them to remove those items. Research shows that removing access to lethal means reduces suicide deaths.
Encourage them to talk about their feelings with others and build relationships that support emotional well-being. Also, help them develop resilience, which can protect against suicide attempts by lowering barriers to getting help such as lack of knowledge of available services or beliefs that help won’t be effective.
Be there for them.
Many people who have felt suicidal say that telling a friend or loved one what they are feeling is a relief. Don’t make them feel like they are being dramatic or overreacting; just listen to them as a good friend and try to understand what they are going through.
Safety planning is an important part of preventing suicide. This involves helping someone who is at risk identify their triggers and warning signs of a crisis, find resources for help, and connect with them. Some of the ways to do this include teaching coping skills, providing access to temporary assistance and reducing access to lethal means.
Another way to be there is by making sure someone has access to mental health services, including psychotherapy. Behavioral therapy, like dialectical behavior therapy, can help someone with thoughts of suicide recognize ineffective patterns of thinking and behavior, improve mental wellness, and build resiliency.
Keep them safe.
While risk factors can increase someone’s vulnerability to suicide, protective factors can help prevent it. These include effective coping and problem-solving skills, strong relationships with friends and family, religious or spiritual beliefs, healthy lifestyles, resilience and access to high quality mental health care.
Reducing someone’s access to lethal means is another important part of preventing suicide. Asking them if they have a plan and finding out how they would kill themselves, and then removing or disabling their access to those things can save lives.
Educating teachers on warning signs and strategies for responding to a student in crisis is an important step. Many schools have crisis teams that include teachers, counselors and school psychologists. Find out if your school has one and if not, consider forming one. It is worth the effort.
Encourage them to get help.
If a person says they want to kill themselves, you should always encourage them to get professional help. This is usually done with a mental health professional, who can help them understand their thoughts and feelings and improve their coping skills.
But you can also try to find ways for them to connect with others, which has been shown to be protective against suicide. A common technique is creating a safety plan, which includes a list of people they feel comfortable asking for help, as well as a way to communicate in crisis.
Another important thing to remember is that most people who commit suicide give some kind of warning, either through behavior or verbal communication. This information should be taken seriously and may be a crucial piece to saving their life. The other main way to prevent suicide is by limiting access to the most commonly used methods. This can be done through means restriction, responsible media coverage and public education.