“I don’t want to live anymore.”
I’ve been a counselor for over a decade and those words still send a shock through my system every time I hear them. When those we care for are considering suicide it’s a frightening experience. Despite this, we know that suicide rates are on the rise. It’ the 2nd leading cause of death between ages 15-35 and there has been a 30% increase in deaths by suicide since 1999. 1
These numbers suggest that most of us know someone that has or is contemplating suicide and it’s important that we know the common behavioral signs. The CDC mentions 12 common warning signs to be aware of:
1. feeling like a burden
2. being isolated
3. increased anxiety
4. feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
5. increased substance use
6. looking for a way to access lethal means to hurt oneself or others
7. increased anger or rage
8. extreme mood swings
9. expressing hopelessness
10. sleeping too little or too much
11. talking or posting on social media about the desire to die
12. making plans for suicidal behavior
So what do we do if someone we know is considering suicide? The National Suicide Prevention Hotline campaign, #BeThe1To recommends 5 action steps:2
Ask. Ask the person if they are thinking about suicide. This is a HARD question and one many of us struggle to ask, but asking someone if they are suicidal doesn’t increase their risk of considering suicide and could save their life.
Keep them safe. After the initial question “are you thinking about suicide” ask more questions to determine their risk. You may need to ask “Do you have a plan?” “Do you have access to what you would use to kill yourself?” “Do you know when you are going to do this?” These questions are important and help you determine their risk. If you feel they are in immediate risk, call 911. If you’re not sure, it’s ok to ask for help! You can always call the National Suicide Hotline and they can walk you through the process or even speak to the person, 1-800-273-8255. This lifeline is open 24/7 and has trained staff there to help.4
Be There. This means physically being present with someone or committing to talking to them by phone when appropriate. We know that connectedness is a buffer against emotional pain, your presence is important. Be a safe person for them during this time BUT don’t commit to anything you don’t have the emotional or physical capacity to provide! You will need to know your limit!
Help Them Connect. You can’t be the only support they have. Help them find other people to lend a hand during this time. The National Suicide hotline is a great support, also encouraging them to use online support such as texting 741-741.3 This is a national crisis text service that can be useful to some. Encourage them to seek mental health support or counseling as well.
Follow Up. Continue to reach out to this person and provide support. Call them, text to check in, let them know you care and will continue to care for them during this hard time. This is so important and lets them know they aren’t alone and that you are there in the hard with them.
Lastly, care for yourself as well! It’s hard when those we care about are in pain and we often forget to ask ourselves “What do I need to care for ME when I’m caring for the other?” It’s ok that it makes you feel worn down, that you might need extra rest, nurture, compassion. Give it to yourself! It is possible to care for ourselves deeply while we care for others deeply. September is Suicide awareness month. Take advantage of some of the trainings and online resources in your area so you will be better prepared to help someone you care about during crisis.
This blog was provided to us and wonderfully written by Sara Hopkins, Director of Counseling Services at Trevecca Nazarene University.