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How to Help Someone Who Might be Thinking About Suicide and Where to go to Get Help


How – Asking the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” communicates that you’re open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way. Asking in this direct manner can open the door for discussion about their emotional pain and can allow everyone involved to see what next steps need to be taken. Other questions you can ask include, “How do you hurt?” and “How can I help?” Do not ever promise to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret.

The flip side of the “Ask” step is to “Listen.” Make sure to take their answers seriously and not to ignore them, especially if they indicate they are experiencing thoughts of suicide. Listening to their reasons for being in such emotional pain, as well as listening for any potential reasons they want to continue to stay alive, are both incredibly important when they are telling you what’s going on. Help them focus on their reasons for living and avoid trying to impose your reasons for them to stay alive.

Why – Studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts. In fact, studies suggest the opposite: acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation.


How – This could mean being physically present for someone, speaking with them on the phone when you can, or any other way that shows support for the person at risk. An important aspect of this step is to make sure you follow through with the ways in which you say you’ll be able to support the person do not commit to anything you are not willing or able to accomplish. If you are unable to be physically present with someone with thoughts of suicide, talk with them to develop some ideas for others who might be able to help as well (again, only others who are willing, able, and appropriate to be there). Listening is again very important during this step. Find out what and who they believe will be the most effective sources of help.

Why – Being there for someone with thoughts of suicide is life-saving. Increasing someone’s connectedness to others and limiting their isolation (both in the short and long-term) has shown to be a protective factor against suicide. Connectedness is a key protective factor, not only against suicide as a whole, but in terms of the escalation from thoughts of suicide to action. Their research has also shown connectedness acts as a buffer against hopelessness and psychological pain.


How – First of all, it’s good for everyone to be on the same page. After the “Ask” step, if you’ve determined suicide is indeed being talked about, then it’s important to find out a few things to establish immediate safety. Have they already done anything to try to kill themselves before talking with you? Does the person experiencing thoughts of suicide know how they would kill themselves? Do they have a specific, detailed plan? What is the timing for their plan? What sort of access to supplies do they have to accomplish their planned method?

Why – Knowing the answers to each of these questions can tell us a lot about the immediate and severe danger the person is in. For instance, the more steps and pieces of a plan that are in place, the higher their severity of risk and their capability to enact their plan might be. Or if they have immediate access to a firearm and are very serious about attempting suicide, then extra steps (like calling the authorities or driving the person to an emergency department) might be necessary. If you aren’t entirely sure what to do next, always turn to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health notes that reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal means (or to their chosen method for a suicide attempt) is an important part of suicide prevention.  Studies indicate that when lethal means are made less available or less deadly, suicide rates by that method decline and frequently suicide rates overall decline. “Method substitution,” or choosing an alternate method when the original method is restricted, does not frequently happen. The myth that “if someone really wants to kill themselves, they’ll find a way to do it” often does not hold true if safety measures are put into place. The Keep Them Safe step is about showing support for someone during the times when they have thoughts of suicide by putting time and distance between the person and their chosen method – especially methods that have shown higher death rates.


How – Helping someone with thoughts of suicide connect with ongoing supports like a Mindful Advocate through Blue KC at 833-302-MIND or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 can help them establish a safety net for those moments when they find themselves in a crisis. Additional components of a safety net might include connecting them with support and resources in their communities. Explore possible support with[IS1]  them – are they currently seeing a behavioral health professional? Have they in the past? Is this an option for them currently? Are there other behavioral health resources in the community that can help?

One method to start helping them find ways to connect is to work with them to develop a safety plan. This can include ways for them to identify when they start to experience significant, severe thoughts of suicide along with what to do in those crisis moments. A safety plan can also include a list of individuals to contact when a crisis occurs.

Why – Individuals who called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline were significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful by the end of calls handled by Lifeline trained counselors.


How – After your initial contact with a person experiencing thoughts of suicide, and after you’ve connected them with the immediate support systems they need, make sure to follow-up with them to see how they’re doing. Leave a message, send a text, or give them a call. The follow-up step is a great time to check in with them to see if there is more you can do to help.

Why – This type of contact can continue to increase their feelings of connectedness and share your ongoing support. There is evidence that even a simple form of reaching out, like sending a caring postcard or text, can potentially reduce their risk for suicide.

Awareness makes everything better. The more we know about suicide, the more we can help someone who is struggling or in danger. To learn more, visit: Blue KC Suicide Prevention & Awareness

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