If you are worried about someone and think they may be suicidal, the most important thing is to take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously. It is a cry for help, and we want more people to talk about it when they are feeling that way. We can all help reduce the stigmas surrounding mental health and getting help, and talking through it is the first step.
There are several other warning signs we need to pay attention to:
- hopelessness – they may see nothing to look forward to
- seeking out means of killing themselves
- talking or writing a lot about death or dying
- abrupt mood swings
- extreme personality changes
- big changes in the way someone eats, sleeps, or takes care of themselves
- self-loathing or self-hatred
- making a will, giving away prized possessions, etc.
- saying goodbye
- withdrawing from their social support network
- self-destructive behavior
- a sudden change to being extremely calm and happy after a period of depression
There are several other complicating factors:
- recent loss or stressful live event
- previous attempts
- family history – of suicide attempts, depression, or trauma
- substance use
- social isolation and loneliness
If you are worried about yourself or someone you love, speak up – anyone who talks about it needs help, the sooner the better, so don’t wait. It can be very difficult, but the best thing to do is ask if you have any concerns at all. You will NOT make someone suicidal or give them ideas by asking about it. The first step is to talk about it.
Remind them they are not alone, that you care about them, and that their life is important to you. Listening and being there, taking them seriously, can help more than you realize. If you are concerned about them, they will hear that in your voice and see it in your manner and that will make a positive impact.
The next step is to respond to the crisis. Do not promise that you will keep it to yourself, try to fix them, blame yourself, judge them, or argue with them. Just be yourself and express your concern. There are resources links on this page that you can access, but it is important to get them help as soon as possible. Help them make a plan for how they will address the crisis they are in and make the changes that they want to make to improve their mental health.
The third step is to offer your help and support – not only in that moment, but for the foreseeable future. When they commit to getting better, they will need your ongoing assistance. You are part of their support, and you are encouraged to follow up with them to see if they went to the therapist appointment you made together, talked to their family, or made other changes. They will need support for the long haul, and you care about them.
This is just a very brief overview. Suicidal feelings can be very complex and take time to work through. It is always a good idea to get more information and education about the issues that plague you and your loved ones.
For more information and links about suicide prevention and what to do:
Kendra Wilson, MSW, LCSW, CEDS-S, DBT-C is a licensed clinical social worker certified as an eating disorder specialist and a DBT specialist. Kendra is the Clinical Director of our Intensive Outpatient Program for eating disorders.