How to Help
Each one of us, regardless of our background, can play a role taking life saving actions. Because we have different beliefs or perceptions about suicide, we may avoid having conversations about suicide because we may think it will never happen. It is important to learn how to keep someone safe when they are in distress. There are important actions you can take to prevent suicide, including:
KNOW THE SIGNS
Most people who feel suicidal express warning signs through feelings, words or actions, including: feeling burdensome, experiencing grief, chronic pain, or changes in substance use, hoarding/stopping medications, having access to lethal means, talking about suicide, withdrawing, acting recklessly, skipping classes, feeling rejected, just to name a few. Take note of more than one warning sign.
IDENTIFY RISK AND PROTECTIVE FACTORS
Protective factors include caring for mental and physical health problems, creating social connectedness, and building skills in coping or adapting to change. Major risk factors, such as depression and substance use, can intensify other risk factors such as medical illness, financial trouble, neurocognitive conditions, grief, and isolation.
Though it may feel difficult, asking directly will not give someone the idea to take their life (“are you having thoughts of suicide?” or "have you lost hope? Sometimes when people feel hopeless, they are thinking of suicide. Are you?"). Consider the different sociocultural beliefs of the person you are supporting. Health care professionals and members of the community can ask about suicidality utilizing risk assessment tools such as the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS). Training can be obtained to support it's use.
LISTEN AND REFER TO HELP
Listen without judgement (“I am here for you” or "I can see how hard this must feel for you.") and then immediately refer them to help. You may ask, "Who would you like to call? I will sit with you while you call your doctor/hotline/therapist." Conducting a collaborative safety plan through tools such as the My 3 App can address important protective factors, such as healthy coping strategies (eg., listening to music, practicing traditions/rituals, etc.), to support a person through their distress. (Please note: If a person would prefer you contact the hotline, you can place the call on their behalf by calling: 1-800-273-8255).
Connect with a phone call, text, or a caring card to show your support and foster a sense of belonging.
To support your learning, please print this handout on How to Help. Or, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to learn more about how to initiate a conversation.