Suicide prevention: how to help a suicidal person

Not everyone is able to meet the challenges that come their way. Some may feel depressed over the loss of someone, the failure of a relationship or an unsuccessful career, and decide to end their life. According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that more than 700,000 suicides occur worldwide each year. You may know people with suicidal thoughts, but you may not know how to help them. On the occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day, which falls every year on September 10, we explain how to help a suicidal person.

Signs of suicidal behavior

Suicide is a deadly act that represents a person’s wish to die, says Dr Ashish Gambre, consultant psychiatrist at SRV Hospitals – Goregaon, Mumbai. Although it is almost impossible to predict suicide, there are some signs of suicide to look out for:

• Intense sadness
• Social withdrawal
• Give important things
• Ask for forgiveness for small things
• Exhibiting extreme mood swings
• Expressing feelings of burden towards others
• Feeling empty, hopeless, without purpose in life.
• Increased dependence on alcohol or other narcotics.

World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10. Image provided by Shutterstock

Reasons why people have suicidal thoughts

Suicidal thoughts typically emerge when a person is faced with a difficult circumstance or persistent stress that they believe does not have a feasible solution, the expert tells Health Shots. People going through difficult times in their personal lives, such as a divorce, a recent bereavement, unemployment, or the consequences of chronic health problems, tend to have such thoughts. If there is a family history of suicide, this can amplify vulnerability to these thoughts.

In addition, psychiatric disorders such as major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, severe obsessive-compulsive disorder can intensify the presence of suicidal ideation. Dr. Gambre says the risk of suicide among people with psychiatric disorders is three to ten times higher than that of people without these disorders.

How to help a suicidal person

You need a lot of care and understanding when approaching such situations. Here’s what to do:

1. Don’t leave them alone
If you feel like someone you know wants to end their life, try not to leave them alone. You can encourage them to see a mental health professional or consider seeking help at a medical facility.

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2. Assess the risk and stay calm

Not everyone who expresses suicidal thoughts needs to be hospitalized, as many people experience suicidal thoughts but do not act on them. So you also need to act accordingly.

3. Start a conversation with them

Talking can help the person with suicidal thoughts to some extent. Engaging in a dialogue about their suicidal feelings could allow them to openly share their thoughts.

4. Don’t judge them

It’s important to listen to what they have to say, but don’t judge them. If you judge them, they will have more negative thoughts about themselves and their life.

5. Express your real concern

It’s not just about talking and sharing their thoughts with you. Reassure them by sharing your genuine concern and letting them know that they are not alone.

suicidal thoughts
Build social support around people with suicidal thoughts. Image provided by: Shutterstock

6. Contact Suicide Prevention Hotlines

The number may not be stored in your phone book, but a quick online search will help you access suicide prevention hotlines. Encourage people with suicidal thoughts to contact suicide prevention hotlines, the expert suggests.

7. Build social support

Don’t do everything yourself. You can try to build a strong social support system around people with suicidal thoughts. These may be family members or friends who would not judge them.

8. Guarantee reduced access to alcohol

People with suicidal thoughts might store bottles of alcohol at home or go to pubs. So, limit their consumption of alcohol or any other narcotics if they take it as a coping mechanism.

9. Help them create a crisis plan

Write down instructions on paper or on your mobile that the person can read when thinking about suicide. These notes may contain motivating reasons to stay alive, strategies to redirect harmful thoughts, a list of supportive people to contact or meet in times of crisis, and contact information for professional health services.

10. Don’t call their suicidal thoughts stupid.

Do not take it lightly if they show signs of suicidal behavior. Putting aside their suicidal thoughts or calling their ideas stupid is not good for them.

You can offer help to anyone having suicidal thoughts, but you are not a professional. So, do your best to encourage the person to seek help from qualified mental health professionals. If the person is in immediate danger or you fear for their safety, simply pick up your phone and contact emergency services.

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