An “intervention” is a strategy or approach intended to prevent an outcome or to alter the course of an existing condition. In suicidal situations, interventions are steps that will help bring relief to overwhelming despair and short-term action plans that will prevent self-injury or death.
Steps to Help
The thought that someone would want to hurt or kill themselves is difficult to understand. Your first reaction might be to ignore or deny the possibility. TRUST YOURSELF and your instincts. If you think the risk for suicide might exist, ask yourself these questions:
What have I seen or heard that concerns me?
- Giving away personal or sentimental items
- Talking, writing or joking about death; talk of feeling trapped
- Romantic breakup or loss of a close friend/family member
How are things different?
- Withdrawing from friends, family and society
- Unexplained anxiety or agitation
- Dramatic mood changes
What behaviors or attitudes have changed?
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities
- Sleeping or eating more/less
- Overwhelming hopelessness and helplessness
Who else is aware of this situation?
- Friends or family members
How long have things been different?
- Very recent or for quite some time
If you find you have clear answers and specific examples of changes in attitudes and behaviors, your concerns about the risk for suicide may be legitimate. Talking with someone in a suicidal crisis can be difficult and uncomfortable, but it can be done successfully. Remember it is important to:
Ask directly if they are thinking about suicide. YOU WILL NOT CAUSE SOMEONE TO CHOOSE SUICIDE BY ASKING IF THEY ARE HAVING THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE. Asking the question opens the door for them to talk about their thoughts and feelings. If the person has not been thinking of suicide, they will tell you.
Listen. What is most helpful during the immediate crisis period is careful listening to what is being said. Once you’ve asked the question, let them talk as you listen to all they have to say.
Give emotional support. Don’t challenge the person, but take him or her seriously and offer to help. Stay with the person until their immediate crisis passes or until help is available.
Accept what is said and take it seriously. Be empathetic; try to understand the situation/circumstances from their viewpoint. Avoid being judgmental or discounting the significance of the issues or problems.
Don’t be misled by comments that the emotional crisis has past. The person might feel relieved after talking about their thoughts of suicide, but the same thoughts could return at a later time.
Focus on the immediate problem or situation. Ask what specifically is causing them to feel suicidal. Talk about what the person hopes to accomplish by suicide (reasons for dying) and generate alternative ways (reasons for living) to achieve the same goals.
Encourage help-seeking. Help identify what needs to be done or can be changed. Explore coping mechanisms or past solutions, as well as options that may have been overlooked or ignored. Be sensitive and foster feelings of confidence that something appropriate, helpful and realistic can be done.
Brainstorm resources and access to help. Resources can be untapped “personal strengths” as well as resources in the community that can be helpful. Personal resources would include immediate and extended family, friends, co-workers, school or church staff, athletic or artistic expression, and coping mechanisms. Community resources would include mental health providers, physicians and counselors and telephone hotlines.
Seek professional help. Referrals can be obtained from suicide prevention centers, physicians and mental health professionals, members of the clergy, community mental health centers, or school counselors.
NEVER promise to keep thoughts of suicide a secret. Promising not to tell limits opportunities for help and increases isolation and risk. It is safer to risk losing a friendship than losing your friend.
Be open and available in the future. Make an agreement to stay in touch. Offer yourself as a caring and available listener until professional assistance has been obtained.
It takes a lot of energy to help someone who is feeling suicidal; remember ~ you might need help too. Don’t try to handle everything alone. Go to a trusted adult (parent, guidance counselor, principal, minister, etc.) and seek out referrals from hotlines or mental health service providers.
Here are some Resources that will help.