September is National Suicide Prevention Month — a time for mental health organizations, advocates, suicide survivors and allies in the community to unite, share resources and raise awareness about suicide prevention.
Supported by the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and other groups, the theme for 2020 is #BeThe1To, which outlines simple actions each person can take to help save lives. Keeping with this year’s message, consider these ways to take a small step and make a big difference:
1. Be the one to ask
Studies have shown that talking about suicide with someone who is at risk may actually reduce suicidal thoughts and can even encourage them to seek help.
Directly asking “Are you thinking about suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” in a nonjudgmental way can let someone know you’re there to have an open conversation. Once you’ve initiated a dialogue, be a good listener as the person describes the emotional pain they’re experiencing. Pay close attention to what they say about their reasons for living and help them focus on those factors.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline advises against interjecting with your opinions about why you think they should stay alive or promising to keep someone’s suicidal intentions a secret.
2. Be the one to keep them safe
During your conversation, make an effort to learn about the severity of the person’s suicidality. Remaining unbiased and nonjudgmental, gather information about whether they have made any plans or attempts on their life prior to speaking with you. It’s also important to find out whether they have a general idea or specific plan for how the would try to commit suicide, and what this entails with regard to timing and access to their intended method.
With this understanding, you can find ways to put time and distance between the at-risk person and their plan and limit access to lethal methods. Research has shown that suicidal individuals are not likely to choose an alternative method if their original plan becomes unfeasible.
3. Be the one to be there
When people experiencing suicidal thoughts lack a sense of belonging and feel isolated from and even burdensome to those around them, they become even more at risk. Theorists have determined that being there for someone who is considering suicide can offer a critical sense of connectedness which acts as a protective buffer.
Being there for someone can mean spending time with them in person or on the phone and following through when you say you will.
4. Be the one to help them connect
In addition to showing your support, you can also help people in your life build out a safety net by connecting with resources and support services. Organizations offering confidential 24-hour hotlines and online chat services include:
- Veterans Crisis Line: Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255.
Suicide is a national public health crisis, especially among the military and veteran communities. But stepping in to help prevent it does not require specialized training. Understanding the warning signs and showing support and compassion saves lives.