Someone tells to you they are thinking about harming themselves or ending their life. The term for this is “Suicidal Ideation” and it’s obvioulsy serious. It doesn’t have to mean making or having a plan to carry out suicide, it could be fantasizing about not being alive. There are many signs that someone is contemplating ending their life. So what do you do?
Here are three important things to do when someone expresses suicidal ideation to you.
1.LISTEN and BE SUPPORTIVE
It is important to be understood, but understanding isn’t always possible. What is possible is meaningful acknowledgement of a person’s thoughts and feelings.
If someone expresses suicidal ideation to you, you may be the first person they have decided they trust enough. That is a heavy responsibility for you. But by being supportive, you honor that trust.
A potent way to show support is to believe someone who expresses suicidal thoughts and not to write them off as just ‘seeking attention’. If they turn out not to be serious, that’s on them. But any conversation about suicide or end-of-life should be approached with belief, respect and compassion.
2.ACKNOWLEDGE WHAT YOU CAN AND CANNOT DO
Unless you are a trained clinician, remember, you don’t really know what the right thing is to do. It is natural to want to give advice, but you shouldn’t, except to advise your person to get help from a professional.
Support doesn’t require expert knowledge, but advice, if wrong, can potentially be disastrous.
Also acknowledge that you, as the person to whom someone expresses suicidal ideation, are suddenly shouldered with a heavy burden. It is noble to carry that burden, but you don’t have to carry it alone. While the suicidal ideation of another isn’t infectious, it can weigh on the listener’s psyche. So, while protecting your person’s confidentiality, talk to someone else about what you’ve heard or the role you played. Communication is healthy.
3.KNOW WHERE TO TURN FOR HELP
Know the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)
Write it down in or near your phone or wallet; wherever you write other EMERGENCY INFORMATION, like:
- Your personal In Case of Emergency contact
- Your home number and address
- Your local police precinct and fire department
- Your doctor and dentist
- The hospital where your doctor has privileges
- Your health insurance information
- Poison Control – 1-800-222-1222
- Motor club or road support (i.e. AAA or a tow service)
Calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are confidential. They connect callers to a national network of local crisis centers. These centers provide free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
You can also consider recommending coaching or therapy.
- Psychological coaching focuses on the positive aspects of the human condition, much like positive counseling; it does not focus on the negative, irrational, and pathological aspects of life. Coaching is specific and goal-oriented.
- Psychotherapy (aka ‘therapy’) is usually conducted by a psychologist, a social worker, or a licensed counselor. They help diagnose and treat mental and emotional problems, or talk through everyday difficulties.
Be prepared. When someone is reaching out for help or attention, you can make a difference. You just might be saving their life.
We are featuring other articles during Suicide Prevention Week:
Suicidal Ideation: How to Hear What Isn’t Being Said
Suicidal Teens: What are the signs? What do you do?
Jim Sliney Jr. is a Registered Medical Assistant and a Columbia University trained Writer/Editor. He creates education and advocacy materials for patient support groups. Jim has worked closely with several rare disease communities. He also coordinates the patient content for PatientsRising and collaborates with other writers to hone their craft. Jim is a native New Yorker where he lives with his wife and all their cats. Twitter Email