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Suicide Prevention: How Can I Help?

By Dana Groom, CRTS and Ashley Dixon, MSW, CAPSW at Southwest Behavioral Services

September is Suicide Awareness month. We all have a role to play in preventing suicide. Have you ever had someone make comments of wanting to take their own life or talk about suicide? When someone talks about suicide, it can be very difficult to know what to do, what to say, or how to help. At Southwest Health, we believe in ‘zero suicide’, and we all play a role in providing help.

One life lost is too many. According to Prevent Suicide Wisconsin, the suicide rate in Wisconsin has increased by 40% in the last few years. According to the CDC, suicide is now the second leading cause of death among youth and adults ages 10-24. We know some of the biggest questions you may have are, “What are the signs of suicide?”, and “What should I do if I think someone is suicidal?”

Identifying signs of Suicide

The more clues and signs observed, the greater the risk. Take all signs seriously. Some clues include behavioral clues, situational clues, and verbal clues (both direct and indirect).

Behavioral Clues are abrupt changes in a person’s behavior, or how they act, which suggests suicidal thoughts or ideas. A few examples of behaviors to be concerned about are acquiring a gun, stockpiling pills, putting personal affairs in order, giving away prized possessions, or an unexplained shift in mood.

Situational Clues are abrupt changes in a person’s circumstances that could trigger suicidal ideation. Examples include being fired from a job or expelled from school, a recent unwanted move, loss in a major relationship, or death of a loved one.

Direct Verbal Clues are clear statements expressing the suicidal thoughts they are having such as:

  • “I’ve decided to kill myself.”
  • “I wish I were dead.”
  • “I’m going to end it all.”

Indirect Verbal or Coded Clues are less specific and hit towards the possibility of suicidal thoughts. These can include:

  • “I’m tired of life. I just can’t go on.”
  • “My family would be better off without me.”
  • “Pretty soon you won’t have to worry about me.”

How to help

If you are seeing or hearing one or more of the above clues, there are things you can do to help.

  1. Ask

First, remember that asking if someone is having thoughts of suicide will not give them the idea. This is something they have already thought about and often want to talk about it.  Research shows most people want to talk about what is going on and share their story. How you ask the question is less important than if you ask it. If the person is reluctant to answer, be persistent and continue to ask. A person may be more willing to talk in a private setting.

It’s difficult to come up with the words or figure out how to ask such a difficult question. Here are some ways to ask if someone is suicidal:

  • “Are you thinking about suicide?”
  • “Have you ever thought about suicide or tried to harm yourself before?”
  • “Do you have a plan for suicide?”
  1. Provide Emotional Support

When someone is sharing their story, be there to listen.  DO be respectful, offer empathy, offer hope, and listen. DON’T be judgmental, dismissive of their thoughts, try to give advice, or be non-compassionate.

Here are some things you can say to show support and empathy:

  • “I am so sorry you are going through this.”
  • “You are in a lot of pain right now.”
  • “You mean so much to me. I can’t imagine my life without you.”
  1. Keep Them Safe

Discuss with the person ways to increase their safety by reducing access to lethal means. For example, this may mean identifying a plan to remove firearms or medications from the home. Ask if the person has a plan of suicide. If the person is actively suicidal and has a plan, never leave them alone.

  1. Help Them Connect.

Identify any positive connections or sources of help. This may be a therapist or counselor, spiritual advisor, parent, teacher, spouse, or another support person. Help them contact this person. You can provide the person with resources for help with suicide and depression. If the person is actively suicidal, help them seek immediate help. This may mean going to the Emergency Room with the person or calling 911.

  1. Follow Up

Check in with the person to see how they are doing. Give them a call or send a text. This type of contact can increase feelings of connectedness and show your ongoing support. Research shows that brief, supportive, ongoing contact can help reduce the risk of suicide.

Lastly, it is very important to remember to take care of yourself. Caring for loved ones with suicidal thoughts and behaviors is incredibly challenging. You may have done everything in your power to keep your loved one safe from suicide, but if they still take their own lives, please remember it is not your fault. It is imperative that you find support for yourself. Some ways to get this support and engage in self-care include practicing healthy coping skills, getting support from friends, family, community groups, and obtaining help from a professional.

Crisis Contact Information:

 Below are some local resources and people you can reach out to if you or someone you know is suicidal.

Iowa and Grant County 24-hour crisis number: 1-800-362-5717

Lafayette County 24-hour crisis number: 1-800-552-6642

National Suicide Hotline: to talk with someone call 1-800-273-8255, or to chat via Text, text the word HOPELINE to 741741

Additional Resources

  • NAMI: My Friend is Suicidal: What Should I Do?

Southwest Health Behavioral Services provides outpatient care including comprehensive psychiatric evaluations, medication management, help coping with illness and other difficulties, help understanding and learning coping strategies, and help changing unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

Southwest Behavioral Services also provides inpatient care, which is an acute, inpatient psychiatric hospital servicing individuals aged 55 and over. We provide psychiatric evaluations, medication management, coping skills training, and therapeutic recreation for depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and other mental health conditions.

If you have any questions about services we can offer, please contact us at (608) 348-3656.