What to Do If Someone is Suicidal

psychcentral Blogger


Suicide is a tragic subject that is near and dear to my heart. In 2000, I almost died by a suicide attempt. It was a wake up call for me. I have since tried to reach out and help others. It breaks my heart every time I hear about a completed suicide or attempt. I wish I could save everyone.

Now, I am a trained QPR trainer…meaning I am trained to teach others to recognize the signs of suicide, how to talk to someone who is suicidal, and what to do. QPR stands for Question, Persuade, Refer. Please take the time to learn the warning signs and what to do from today’s blog post. I hope you never have to use it but…if you do, it could save a life. Please…don’t wait until it’s too late.

First, and foremost, do not be afraid to use the word suicide. It is a myth that bringing up the word suicide to someone depressed will make them suicidal. If anything, by asking someone if they are suicidal, you are showing that you care. It is a relief because they have probably been fearful to tell anyone.

Warning Signs

There are four types of cues, or signs, to watch out for when you suspect someone is thinking about suicide. These are direct, indirect, situational, and behavioral cues. Direct cues are when the individual actually verbalizes that they are suicidal. For example, “I am going to kill myself,” or “I wish I was dead,” are direct cues. Other examples include “If my girlfriend breaks up with me, I will kill myself” or, “If I lose my job, I’m going to kill myself.” Indirect cues are a little more difficult to notice. The suicidal person may say, “Pretty soon you won’t have to worry about me,” or “I’m tired of life, I just can’t go on.” The situation precipitating the attempt is also a clue. Situational cues include losing a job, the end of a relationship, the death of a loved one, loss of financial security, diagnosis of a serious illness, or being fearful of becoming a burden on others.Finally, behavioral cuesare the person’s behaviors in which signal they are considering suicide. For example, getting rid of precious possessions, stockpiling pills, buying a gun, getting their affairs in order, withdrawing from life, or having unexplained anger, irritability, or aggression. Be observant for these cues. The more cues the individual is exhibiting the more apt they are of being suicidal.

This is where the Q in QPR comes in. It is important, when we are concerned about an individual being suicidal, that we find a way to question them about this. We can do this directly or indirectly. Examples of directly asking include, “Sometimes, when someone is as upset as you seem to be, they sometimes wish they were dead. I’m wondering if you may be feeling that way,” or directly say, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” What are some indirect ways to ask someone about suicidal feelings?  You might say, “You’ve been feeling down lately and yesterday you said something about not being sure you could go on anymore. Sometimes when people get in a place like that things may seem hopeless. I’m wondering if you have been thinking about ending your life?” Another example of an indirect question is, “Do you ever wish you could go to sleep and never wake up?”

There are ways to NOT ask the question. Please avoid asking, “you aren’t thinking about doing something crazy are you,” or “suicide is a dumb idea, surely you aren’t thinking about suicide.” These will automatically cause the person to shut up and deny suicidal thoughts.

Again, mentioning suicide is NOT going to cause someone to attempt suicide. To the contrary, it will be a relief to them that someone is finally caring enough to talk to them. People who are suicidal are wanting to find a way to live…they are just tired of the pain and wanting an escape from it.

The next step, after you have questioned them and they have opened up to being suicidal, is to persuade them to get help. Ask them, “what’s wrong,” and give them your full attention…without interruption. Stay calm and don’t rush to judgment.

After they have opened up, let them know that suicide is not a good solution. Suggest some alternatives. Be compassionate for their pain and suffering. Offer them hope in a positive outcome. For example, “yes, the situation is difficult but not hopeless.”

Now, we want to persuade them to reach out for help. Ask, “will you go with me to get help,” or, “will you let me help you get help?” Our willingness to listen and to help can rekindle hope and make all the difference. Let them know you care.

Often, someone feeling suicidal may feel they cannot be helped so you may have to do more. Get a commitment from the person to accept help then, assist them in making the arrangements to get that help (refer). Ask, “who else do you feel comfortable with to know what is going on with you whom we can call for support?” Reassure them that you care. Say, “I want you to live,” or “I’m on your side…we will get through this.” Get others involved. Is there anyone else the individual trusts to help? It may be family members, friends, a brother, a sister, pastor, rabbi, priest, bishop, physician or therapist. After you have helped the person and they have received help, reach out to them again, later, to follow up and let them know you care.

Helping someone who is suicidal is both frightening and can mentally affect you. Make sure to take care of yourself afterward. Have someone you can talk to.

Lastly, the suicide lifeline is a resource and is open seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day for citizens and veterans. The number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Feel free to comment here or privately at mendingandthriving@gmail.com.



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