CARE-ing for a Friend/ Family Member with Suicidal Thoughts

When a friend or family member is struggling with suicidal thoughts, it is important to know how to respond as it can literally save a life.

The National Suicide Prevention Website lists a number of warning signs that can be helpful in recognizing if one is at risk for suicide. Knowing the warning signs, especially if behaviors are new or have increased as well as signs that seem related to a painful event, loss, or change are tell-tale signs.

  • Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving reckless
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

If you are recognizing any of these signs, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available to provide support and information. In addition to knowing the warning signs, remember these 5 ACTION STEPS #BeThe1To

1. ASK

Ask questions in a direct, non-judgmental way. Examples include–Are you thinking about harming yourself? How can I help? What do you need right now? Do you have a plan to keep yourself safe? Have you ever attempted suicide? Do you currently have a plan to kill yourself? Do you have access to means to carry out this plan?

2. BE THERE

Listen and be present. If a person has attempted suicide or is injured, call 911 immediately and stay with them. Especially during times of isolation/ loneliness, it is so important to feel connected. Be there to reach out to loved ones who are expressing distress on social media. Additional resources are available that specifically address how to help with safety-and-support-on-social-media.If you are unable to be physically present, seek out other supports who may be able to assist:

3. KEEP THEM SAFE

Take steps to respond to the information that you have gathered from asking questions that provide responses regarding your loved one’s immediate risk of harm and severity of the risk. For example, someone with suicidal thoughts, with a history of previous attempts and access to means has more risk factors in place than someone who is thinking about suicide but has no plan or intent to harm themselves. It is important that if you think that someone is at imminent risk of harm, call 911. Taking additional action steps to keep loved ones safe such as driving the nearest emergency room or calling local authorities is extremely important when someone is planning to attempt suicide and has access to means. If you are not sure, the LifeLine or your local crisis number can assist with resources on what to do. Reducing access to means (e.g. firearms, pills, etc) and taking the appropriate safety measures to keep one’s environment safe by removing means are additional steps.

4. HELP THEM CONNECT

Connecting someone with suicidal thoughts to national and national suicide prevention and 24/7 crisis resources is a great first step 1-800-273-TALK (8255) . Help is available to those who are seeking additional support on how to help their friends or family members. This is also the number that those who are struggling emotionally, whether or not they are contemplating suicide can reach out to for additional support.

Exploring any past connections to mental health-related supports and encouraging these connections is the next step. Do you currently have established care providers? Is there a past provider that you may want to re-establish care with? Offer to assist with connecting to these supports.

5. FOLLOW UP

Take the time to check in with your friend or family member on how they are coping. Let them know that they love/ care about them. Reaching out fosters the sense of connectedness. Consider showing your support in meaningful ways such as a heartfelt note of encouragement or invitation to connect.

Resources:

National Suicide Prevention Life: 1-800-273-8255

Mental Health Crisis Services. Text MN to 741741

Metro Area Mental Health Crisis Response

Ramsey: adults: 651-266-7900, children: 651-774-7000

Hennepin: adults: 612-596-1223, children: 612-348-2233

Written by Charlotte Johnson MA, LPCC

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