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How to Help a Loved One Who is Suicidal

June 8, 2016

Every 12.3 minutes someone dies by suicide in the United States. This is a frightening statistic, and even more so when you know a loved one who may be contemplating self-harm. How can you be sure your loved one is experiencing suicidal ideation? How do you show your support for them? And what happens after that? These questions and more may be running through your mind as you’re unsure how to help your loved one recover from a crisis.


Recognizing Suicidal Behaviors


There are certain behaviors that offer clues and indicate that someone may be having suicidal thoughts. Some such warning signs include:

●     Mood changes that are extreme

●     Feeling sad or low in excess

●     Avoiding most or all social activities

●     Abusing drugs or alcohol.

●     Lack of attention to their personal appearance

●     Too much or too little sleep

●     Changes in eating patterns, such as no appetite or increased hunger


This list of possible warning signs is by no means exhaustive. If you have any questions about potential suicidal thoughts or behaviors, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Staffed by trained crisis counselors, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers valuable advice and support in times of crisis. Counselors are also able to refer you to local crisis treatment centers or other resources for accessing mental health care in your community.


Supporting a Loved One through These Thoughts

Talking about suicide can be difficult and intimidating, but it’s okay to discuss suicide with someone you’re concerned about. In fact, it’s necessary to begin the process of recovery. If you’re nervous, which is perfectly normal, avoid fidgeting or pacing if possible, as these behaviors can increase the general anxiety in the environment and make both of you uncomfortable.


It is okay to ask them if they’re having thoughts of suicide or if they have a plan for how they would attempt to harm themselves. Ask what you can do to help, but be sure to not argue with them or raise your voice. Try to remove all firearms, knives, and pills from their home, and ask if you may help them find and contact a psychiatrist.

Be sure that you’ve educated yourself about suicide. Don’t talk about the morality of suicide or the rights or wrongs about self-harm. If you’re unsure about what to say or do, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline; they can lead you to educational brochures and other resources online to help you communicate more effectively in crisis situations.

You’ll always want to show support for a loved one, even when they are not in a crisis at the moment. Show your support by actively listening and letting them know that they can talk to you about what she or he is feeling and going through. Don’t force the discussion if they’re not ready to open up to you, but do make sure that you’re not leaving them alone in a state of crisis.


If they just want to sit with you quietly, do so; it is not necessary to talk to them if they would like a few moments of silence. It is good to talk with a loved one about having a crisis plan or contract in case a crisis should occur. These contracts typically include a signed commitment that they will follow through with critical action steps such as contacting you or a trusted friend or relative immediately if they are in crisis. 


Hopefully your loved one is willing to see a psychiatrist and enter therapy, but they will still need support from their loved ones. Let them know that you’re there for them anytime they need you. Invite them to go out to dinner, or at least get together at one of your homes for dinner. Remember that recovery doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a long-term and often lifelong process. Also remember that they will most likely be changed in many ways when they have recovered – but they’ll be living.


Image via Pixabay by Unsplash


Steve Johnson has always been dedicated to promoting health and wellness in all aspects of life. Studying in the medical field has shown him how important it is for reputable health-related facts, figures, tips, and other guidance to be readily available to the public. He created with a fellow student to act as a resource for people’s overall health inquiries and as an accurate and extensive source of health information. When he isn’t hard at work in his studies, Steve enjoys playing tennis and listening to his vintage record collection.

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