September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — an annual observance that focuses on raising awareness around suicide and the effect that it has on so many people’s lives.
Many of us have been impacted by suicide or know someone who has. Just last month, close friends of mine were faced with the devastating loss of a loved one by suicide. According to the CDC, suicide is a leading cause of death in the U.S. with about one death by suicide occurring every 11 minutes. At particular risk are youth and young adults, with 14% of all suicides occurring in 10- to 24-year-olds.
Despite these staggering statistics, suicide is preventable and there is help and hope for those who need it.
How can we help someone who is struggling?
#BeThe1To is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s message for National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and beyond. That is, be the one to intervene. Here are five ways we can:
Ask. Asking the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” communicates that you’re open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way. Other questions you can ask include, “How do you hurt?” and “How can I help?”. Make sure you take their answers seriously, especially if they indicate they are experiencing thoughts of suicide.
Be there. This could mean being physically present for someone, speaking with them on the phone when you can, or any other way that shows tangible support for the person at risk during their time(s) of crisis. An important aspect of this step is to make sure you follow through; do not commit to anything you are not willing or able to actually do.
Keep them safe. After you’ve determined suicide is indeed being talked about, it’s important to find out a few things to establish immediate safety. Do they have a specific, detailed plan? What’s the timing for their plan? This step is really about intervening for someone during the times when they have thoughts of suicide by putting time and distance between the person and their chosen method.
Help them connect. Helping someone with thoughts of suicide connect with a crisis lifeline can help them establish a safety net for those moments they find themselves in distress. Additional components of a safety net might be connecting them with supports and resources in their community. Are they currently seeing a mental health professional? Are there other mental health resources in the community that can help?
Follow up. After your initial contact, and after you’ve connected them with the immediate support systems they need, make sure to follow up with them to see how they’re doing. Send a text or give them a call. The follow-up step is a great time to check in with them to see if there is more you are capable of helping with or if there are things you’ve said you would do and haven’t yet had a chance to complete for them. This type of contact can increase their feelings of connectedness and demonstrate your ongoing support.
What resources or supports can I direct them to?
- 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: provides free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24/7, across the U.S.
- Crisis Text Line: provides free 24/7 crisis counseling
- Text HOME to 741741
- The JED Foundation: suicide prevention resources for teens and young adults
My friends hoped they would have had more time with their loved one. Knowing about suicide prevention resources and being equipped to support someone in crisis — if or when the time comes — can save a life. If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out to help before it’s too late. Every life matters.