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Suicide Prevention Month 2019

By OnYourMind Staff

September is Suicide Prevention Month, which means this is a great opportunity to talk about how to support someone who is contemplating dying by suicide. This can be a really hard topic to talk about. In some modern cultures, death isn’t discussed openly and makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable. Suicide is often stigmatized as being unnatural or that a person who thinks about it is “crazy.” But someone who is thinking about suicide is most likely in a great amount of mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. 

Why someone would consider suicide 

Even if someone is in pain or struggling, another person who has not thought about suicide might think that killing yourself can seem like a really extreme reaction. We all have differing abilities to deal with life’s struggles and obstacles. A great way to think about this concept is a balancing scale, with life’s struggles on one end and our ability to deal with them on the other. When the struggles overwhelm our mental and emotional ability to deal with them, people can feel trapped and hopeless. The scale is out of balance. This might lead them to contemplate suicide to escape the pain that they feel.

A dark grey graphic of a scale sits on a background of blue. The title of the graphic reads "why would someone consider suicide?" One of the weight platforms is labeled "protective factors" and a list of three things sits on it: "resilience, ability to cope, and systems of support." The other weight platform is labeled "risk factors." The risk factors are "obstacles, difficult life situations, and mental & emotional pain. This weight platform is lower than the first platform, showing that the risk factors can outweigh the protective factors.

The facts about suicide 

Suicide is a rising epidemic in young people. It is the second leading cause of death among US citizens aged 10-34. With rising suicide rates, it can feel like there isn’t support for people who are feeling this way. But there are programs all over the country who help people who are having thoughts of suicide, and OnYourMind.net is part of one. 

OnYourMind.net is part of a larger agency, StarVista, in California that has other programs that help with suicide prevention. In 2018 our crisis center alone fielded 12,255 hotline calls and 251 chatters to our peer chat. We also provided 114 follow-ups to hotline calls, where one of our staff clinicians reaches out by request of the caller to check in on them within a week of their initial call to provide additional support and resources. Imagine those numbers replicated with every crisis center across the country- that’s a lot of people reaching out for help! 

There are also things you can do to help prevent suicide in your lives and communities. You need to know how recognize the signs, how to be supportive in what you say, and how to help people look for and access services in their community that can support them. 

Signs of suicide in young people 

A big green title reads "the signs:" on a blue background. Under that is a list of signs someone might exhibit when they are thinking of suicide: talking about being a burden, increased substance use, reckless behavior, feeling hopeless or trapped, sudden mood changes, neglect of physical appearance, giving away possessions, speaking to people as if they are saying goodbye. The title and list are enclosed in a box of white lines.

Knowing when a person in your life needs support becomes easier if you know the signs for someone who may be thinking of suicide. The following graphic lists behaviors, emotions, or actions someone who is considering suicide might display. If you would like more information about the signs someone might display when having thoughts of suicide, visit Know The Signs.  

Talking to someone who is contemplating suicide 

If someone is showing signs of contemplating dying by suicide, the next step is to try to talk to them about how they are feeling. Sometimes we fear talking with someone about suicide because we don’t want to trigger them. However, talking openly about suicide will not increase the likelihood that they will die by suicide. Instead, it may open a lifeline of support.  

The best methods to use to talk to someone who you suspect is having thoughts is to make time for the conversation, ask directly about suicide, and be validating and non-judgmental. These communication tactics can help them feel supported and safe.  

Validation is a communication method that recognizes their struggles and experiences without trying to argue them out of their views. Instead of saying things like “but think about all the good things in your life,” or “someone else has it way worse,” you use empathy to reflect back what the person is sharing: “Wow, it sounds like you are having such a hard time. How best can I support you?” 

This image has green titles and white text on a blue background. On one side of a  vertical white line, the title reads "validating," followed by a column with examples of validating phrases: "You seen really upset. Can you tell me more about what's going on?" "Wow, you are going through so much right now. How can I best support you?" "I hear how that could make you feel this way. What a tough situation." The other side of the line is titled "non-validating," and under that is a column on non-validating examples: "You're still upset about that? It was so long ago." "Think about all the good things in your life. Other people have it way worse." "That's making you feel like killing yourself? But it's not even that big of a deal."

Nonjudgment is another crucial piece of communicating with a person who is contemplating dying by suicide. We all experience life differently. That’s part of what makes us unique. Some things can be very upsetting for one person, and not really bother another person so much. What’s important is to not judge another person’s reactions to their life against how we would feel. All emotions are valid. 

In addition to validating the other person and using nonjudgmental language, it can be helpful to use the following tips when talking to someone who you think may be contemplating suicide:  

The first thing is to set aside some time to talk about this issue. It can be hard for someone to open up if you’re asking them on a break in between classes or when they’re in the middle of something. Being intentional about setting aside an uninterrupted, long period of time to talk with someone about your concerns shows that you respect what they have to say and take them seriously. You also get the chance to really focus on listening to the other person without distractions.  

Secondly, it is important to ask directly about suicide if you are worried that someone may be having thoughts of killing themselves. If you ask something like “are you thinking about harming yourself?” you may not get an accurate response of what’s really going on for the person. You want to use direct language like “are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “are you thinking about killing yourself?” This may be uncomfortable to ask, or maybe even awkward, but asking someone directly about suicide in this way continues to show the other person that you are worried about them and are taking their behaviors seriously. Some people worry that if you ask directly about suicide you may be planting the idea in their mind. This is a common misconception. For people who have thoughts of suicide, it could be a huge relief to have someone ask them directly about suicide and it shows that you’re willing to have a difficult conversation about how they’re really feeling.  

Accessing resources 

When someone feels like they need more support or you think someone’s safety is in danger, you can reach out to certain services in your community for help. These resources are often crisis services, or programs whose purpose is to specifically help people who are having a mental health crisis. This can include hotlines; crisis centers; hospitals; or mental health clinicians like therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists.  

The best way to search for community resources is to search online with terms like “crisis services” or “crisis hotline” along with your area. A local hotline is also a great place to get other resources that are available in your area, and you can call them for information even if you aren’t the person who is having a crisis.  

If you are local to San Mateo County, California, USA, you can call our crisis hotline at 650-579-0350, come talk on our teen peer crisis chat on Onyourmind.net, or visit the StarVista agency website for more information about support services in the county. If someone you know is struggling, you can also give them our information for them to use. Our hotline and chat are free and anonymous. If you aren’t from San Mateo County we still welcome your calls and chats and can direct you to a local resource in your area. You can also find out more information on how to support someone through Know The Signs. We are here to support you and help prevent suicide. 

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