Note – This article has been adapted to include the Maryland Helpline information in addition to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people between ages 10 and 24. To acknowledge September as National Suicide Prevention Month, MCF has joined the movement #BeThe1To, which strives to increase awareness and offer information and tools that allow all of us to join in the effort to prevent suicide. As part of that effort, we want to share a quick and simple resource developed by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This is a five-step guide to help you talk to a friend or family member who you think may be having suicidal thoughts. Research shows that people who are having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks after them in a caring way. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation.
Asking the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” lets the person know that you’re open to speaking about suicide with compassion and without judgment. You can also ask how you can help them. The flip side is that you also need to listen to their answers, even if they’re upsetting or hard for you to understand. Also, don’t promise to keep their suicidal thoughts a secret, because your telling other people may be what they need to get help.
2. Keep them safe.
If after the “Ask” step you’ve determined that they are thinking about suicide, it’s important to find out a few things to establish immediate safety. You should determine whether they’ve already done anything to harm themselves before talking with you; if they know how they would try to kill themselves with a specific, detailed plan; what the timing of their plan is; and whether they have access to the tools they would need to see it through. Depending on their answers, you may need to call the police or take the person in question to the emergency room. If you are unsure what to do, contact the Maryland Helpline by calling 211 press 1 or by texting 898-211 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
3. Be there.
Maybe this means going over to their place when they’re feeling upset, or staying on the phone with them while they prepare to call a hotline. Be sure that you’ll be able to follow through on any commitments you make. Dependability is really key.
4. Help them connect.
Calling the Maryland Helpline at 211 press 1 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 is one way to help a person with suicidal ideation connect to someone who can help them. Another is to create a more robust safety plan with a list of contact information for mental health resources in their community, along with exploring the possibility of them seeing a therapist if they’re not already.
5. Follow up.
Doing all of the above means you’ve taken meaningful steps to help someone experiencing suicidal thoughts. After that, make sure to follow up with them, express that you care, and ask if there’s anything else you can do to help. This shows that they’re important to you, and that you’re there to support them.