Is someone you know struggling with suicidal thoughts? If so, it is natural if you want to help them, but you may not always be sure what to do or say or fear that talking about it will lead them to carry it out. Talking about it openly will always help.. We created this guide so you can feel confident that you are providing support in a meaningful way.
How Do Suicidal Thoughts Work?
When someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, it is important to gain an understanding of how these thoughts work. The important thing to remember is that when someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, they have little control over those thoughts in the immediate moment. However, the presence of suicidal thoughts—also called suicidal ideation—is often indicative of deeper issues that cannot be resolved by simply eliminating the thoughts or trying not to think of them.
With this in mind, one of the best ways to help someone struggling with suicidal thoughts is by approaching their struggles from a nonjudgmental perspective. The person does not want to be experiencing these thoughts. Making them feel worse about their thoughts or like the situation is their fault will only exacerbate their feelings of hopelessness and pain.
A Brief Guide To Help Someone With Suicidal Thoughts
If you know someone struggling with suicidal thoughts, these three simple steps can help anyone provide support.
1. Start by Listening
It is most important to let one know that you are comfortable talking about their suicidal thoughts. When someone you know opens up to you about their struggles with suicidal thoughts, that means they are trusting you with such a stigmatized topic. The best way to show your appreciation is simply by listening to what they share with you and not offering judgment or solutions..
You may not always know what to say, but most often, people struggling with suicidal thoughts do not reach out because they want to hear what you have to say—they reach out because they want to be heard.
Making sure they feel heard is one of the simplest ways to offer your support, especially when they know they always have a nonjudgmental ear to turn to whenever they are struggling with suicidal thoughts.
2. Ask if They Have Thought of a Suicide Plan
The formation of a suicide plan is an important warning sign of a potential suicide. How realistic and detailed is the plan? Do they have the means to carry out their plan? Are they planning on being in an isolated place where they can carry out their plan without intervention? Have they made an attempt before? All of these are part of an assessment of whether the risk is mild, moderate or severe. And, they will inform as to when to seek professional help (or to contact their therapist if they already have one).
3. Know When To Seek Help
While nonjudgmental listening can provide an excellent place to start, you also need to know when more active interventions, such as professional guidance, are necessary. If the person becomes a danger to themselves or expresses a desire to act on their suicidal thoughts, the best way to help is by ensuring they get help in a supportive clinical setting. And whether someone is a danger to themselves can be determined by a good suicide assessment, either by a friend or family member or by a mental health professional.
Did you know hopelessness over insomnia can increase suicide risk? Learn About the Connection
Risk Factors Related to Suicidal Thoughts
On top of knowing when to seek help for someone struggling with suicidal thoughts, you should also look out for these risk factors, as they have been associated with an increased chance that someone will act on suicidal thoughts:
Social isolation can increase the risk that someone will act on suicidal thoughts. As discussed above, one of the best ways to help someone work through feelings of isolation is by simply listening.
A History of Depression
The presence of suicidal thoughts does not necessarily mean an individual has been or will be diagnosed with depression. However, when someone who has been experiencing significant depression is also experiencing suicidal thoughts, there is a significantly higher chance they will act on those thoughts.
Previous Suicide Attempts
Likewise, if someone has acted on thoughts of suicide in the past, the safest course of action is to assume they might act on those thoughts again. While they may have no intention of acting on those thoughts, they might lose that restraint during a high-stress or emotional situation.
Drug or Alcohol Addiction
Drug or alcohol use makes it more challenging for individuals to regulate their emotions, particularly when dealing with suicidal thoughts. When someone is struggling with drugs or alcohol (including prescription medications) in conjunction with suicidal thoughts, situations can become more volatile, and treatment should account for both issues. Often prescription medications are the means for one to carry out a suicide.
How PCH Treats Suicidality
When you are trying to help someone you care about work through thoughts of suicide, it can be helpful to know where to turn if you need professional guidance. PCH is here for support with a specialized approach to treating suicidality.