THIS POST IS PART OF A WEEK-LONG SUICIDE PREVENTION WEEK SERIES. IF YOU ARE, OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS, CURRENTLY IN CRISIS, PLEASE CALL THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-8255. YOU ARE IMPORTANT.
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As we mentioned yesterday, after noticing warning signs or “invitations,” the best way to find out if a person is thinking of suicide is by asking the question. That question, of course, is:
“Are you thinking of killing yourself” or “Are you thinking of suicide?”
It is also important to ask follow-up questions:
- “Have you decided how you would kill yourself?”
- “Have you decided when you would do it?”
- “Have you taken any steps to secure the things you would need to carry out your plan?”
As we know, risk factors also have an impact on the likelihood of someone acting on suicidal thoughts. Two of those largest risk factors, and therefore points that you should try to get the answer to, are:
- Alcohol and drug use – especially if they are currently under the influence
- Having made a suicide attempt in the past
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The Connecticut Suicide Advisory Board gives a great example of a conversation like this on their website:
If someone uses an invitation like:
- “It doesn’t matter anymore because I won’t be here anyway.”
- “What do you mean you won’t be here? Are you thinking of suicide?
- “Sometimes when people feel as you do they consider suicide, is that something you’re thinking of as well?”
When speaking with someone who is suicidal, evidence supports keeping the following points in mind:
- Express your care and empathy toward the person
- Let the individual know that thoughts of suicide are often associated with a treatable mental illness
- Tell the person that thoughts of suicide are common but do NOT have to be acted upon.
- Let the individual do most of the talking – you may very well be the first person to engage with them on this topic
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WHAT IF THE PERSON RESPONDS “YES”?
If an individual responds “yes” to any of the questions above, they ARE at risk for suicide. Though a higher level of planning may indicate a higher risk, a lower level of planning does not mean that there is no risk. Any answer of “yes” should be taken seriously.
Mental Health Professionals advocate connecting suicidal individuals to professional help. In Connecticut, United Way runs a program called 2-1-1. Individuals who dial 2-1-1 in Connecticut will be connected to an Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Team. Other professional help includes: 9-1-1, The Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255), engaging a mental health professional (in the case that this individual has a therapist), enacting a mental health safety plan. Once help is one the way, do not leave the person alone.
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- If a person asks you to promise not to tell anyone else, do not agree. We can respect individuals’ privacy in many ways, but keeping thoughts or plans of suicide a secret is usually only damaging.
- Some people injure themselves with intent other than to kill. The term for this is Nonsuicidal Self-Injury.
- We do the best with the information that we have. Despite our best efforts, some people will still die by suicide.
Unless otherwise specified, this information has been adapted from The Mental Health First Aid USA Curriculum.