September is often a month where people are buzzing with excitement over the start of a new school year, the potential for some relief from the summer heat (if you live in the south), pumpkin spice flavors popping up in coffee shops, and the startup of football among many other exciting things. Many of us have had our fill of the summer heat, vacations, camp, etc. and are ready for the season to change.
But one thing often overlooked in the month of September is the fact that it’s Suicide Prevention Awareness month. Most people have been impacted by suicide in one way or another. Whether it was the loss of an immediate family member or close friend, or a loss that someone near and dear endured, suicide is like an earthquake with aftershocks that reach many circles around the individual.
You might be wondering, “How am I supposed to help someone I am worried might be having suicidal thoughts?” It can be hard to know how to help your friend or loved one who is struggling, and it might feel well beyond your knowledge or capability to handle. One very helpful resource is the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Their #BeThe1To message addresses this very question in a series of steps:
- Ask: Many people worry that asking their friend or loved one about possible thoughts they’re having might anger them, cause them to be defensive or withdraw, or even plant thoughts in their head that weren’t there to begin with. In reality, research has shown that asking and being willing to have an open/nonjudgemental discussion can help reduce suicidal ideation.
- Be There: Simply showing up and being present can make a huge impact. Someone wrestling with suicidal ideation is less likely to follow through with a plan if they are comforted by the presence of a friend or loved one. Your presence is probably greatly reducing feelings of isolation, and being present doesn’t mean you have to say all the right things. Often you don’t even need to talk but rather just listen.
- Keep Them Safe: When you take away the means for someone to end their life, studies have shown that this greatly reduces the chances that they will do so. This might look like removing items that they can harm themselves with such as sharp objects, cleaning products, drugs and medication, belts, cords, wire, rope, and firearms.
- Help Them Stay Connected: This step is really important because it allows trained and equipped professionals to enter into the situation. If you have reason to believe your friend or loved one is on the brink of harming themselves, take them to the nearest emergency department or call 911. If the threat isn’t necessarily imminent, there are various crisis lines you can refer them to. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline provides free and confidential 24/7 services. Another helpful way to get them connected is to help them find a mental health professional in the area who they can meet with on a regular basis. Offer to drive them to their appointments or follow up to ensure they’re attending.
- Follow Up: It is important to continue to check in with your friend or loved one and to not just assume they’re in the clear if they suddenly seem much better. It might be beneficial to create a support system around them and have multiple people following up.
Supporting an individual who is struggling with suicidal ideation can take an emotional toll on yourself. It’s important to factor in your own needs as well! Talk to trusted friends or family members about what you’re going through. Maybe consider seeing a mental health professional for yourself. Engage in activities that give you life. It could make all the difference in trying to help prevent someone from taking their own.
The Made Well Team