When someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, it can be hard to know what to do, but there are steps you can take to have a positive impact.
If you thought a friend or loved one was considering suicide, what would you do?
Thoughts of suicide, in addition to substance misuse and other mental health challenges, are on the rise — and it’s important to be prepared for these situations and to know how you can help.
“We’re seeing an increase in suicidal ideation among teens and young adults since the pandemic started that’s quite dramatic,” said Cambria Bruschke, who holds a master’s degree in social work and is Kaiser Permanente’s national project lead for suicide prevention. In a June 2020 survey of more than 5,000 Americans, 11% said they had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days. For respondents between 18 and 24 years old, the number was 25%.
The statistics are alarming, but prevention works, and resilience and recovery are possible. Bruschke recommends specific, deliberate actions you can take to help support the people you love.
Whether you’re thinking about suicide or are concerned about someone else, the most important thing is to talk about it. If someone confides in you, you can listen and encourage them to seek help.
“Some people worry that bringing up the topic of suicide with someone they are concerned about may put the idea in their mind,” said Bruschke, “but we know from the research that this isn’t the case. We need to be able to ask people directly if they’re having thoughts of harming themselves.”
Don’t be afraid to be direct. If you’re concerned, you can ask: “Have you been thinking about suicide?”
Check out Find Your Words for more suggestions about how to bring up the topic with friends and family members in a nonthreatening and nonjudgmental way.
Take the time to learn about suicide. Learn what to say and what to do if someone you know is struggling.
“One of my favorite campaigns is Take 5 to Save Lives,” said Bruschke, “which guides you through 5 simple things you can do to get involved and stay informed.”
Keep an eye out for any changes, especially in behavior. Listen for expressions of worthlessness, sadness, isolation, or anger. Watch for either acting out or withdrawal, especially in teenagers.
If someone you know has considered a specific method for self-harm, help by removing all easy access to that method from the immediate environment. For instance, if someone has considered using a gun for self-harm, removing all firearms or safely locking them away can make all the difference in a crisis. Any step that puts a barrier between thoughts of suicide and a potential means for acting on those thoughts creates the space for a different choice.
Help and resources are available for anyone considering suicide and for people who are concerned about a friend or loved one.
Kaiser Permanente members can get connected to care at kp.org/mentalhealth.
For immediate help for any mental health crisis, including thoughts of suicide, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.