So you’ve noticed that a loved one or colleague has been behaving differently. Maybe they’re staying home most of the time when they used to be the life of the party, or you’ve noticed they suddenly smell like alcohol every day, and look exhausted. Then they ask you to take care of their pet if anything happens to them. You ask if everything is alright. They say, “I just don’t feel good about anything anymore, and I’m tired of fighting.” They laugh after they say this, but you can see that there is no joy in their laugh. You pluck up your courage and say that sometimes when people say things like that, they’re thinking of ending their life. You ask them directly if they’re thinking about suicide.
They may say no, it’s not that serious. Perhaps they just need someone to talk to, like a counselor. You encourage them to seek help and offer yourself as a listening ear. But what if they say yes?
While it can feel really scary to know that someone is thinking of ending their life, the reality is that if they are talking with you about it, they probably have some small part of them that is hopeful and wants to stay alive. While you can’t make their decision for them, you can help to keep them safe.
Spend some time listening to their reasons for wanting to end their life. Let them tell you how they’re feeling and what they’re planning. Once you’ve listened enough to help them know that you hear them, make sure you put them in touch with someone who can help without leaving them alone, even if they say they feel better after talking. One of the easiest ways to do this is the call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline together, at 800-273-TALK (8255).
You can also take them to a mental health facility for an evaluation, or call a mobile crisis unit to come do an evaluation wherever they are. If you live in Delaware, the mobile crisis unit for adults can be reached at 1-800-652-2929. If the person is under 18, you can call Child Priority Response at 1-800-969-HELP (4357). If they have a plan of how to kill themselves, but refuse to connect with a professional, call the mobile crisis unit and explain the situation so that appropriate action can be taken.
One very important thing to remember is that you must also keep yourself safe. If the person seems very agitated and dangerous, call 911.
Finally, remember that while everyone can help with suicide prevention, no one can control another person’s decisions. If you have lost a loved one to suicide, or are afraid to help because of the sense of responsibility involved, remember that ultimately the choice is up to them. We can only do the best we can with the information we have. If someone close to you has died, remember that it is not your fault, and don’t be afraid to reach out for any help that you might need. We should not only extend kindness to others, but also to ourselves because each of us has a life that is worth living.
Written by Emily Coggin Vera, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association In Delaware