What You Can Do When Someone You Know Is Suicidal
If a person that you care about shares that they have had suicidal thoughts recently, what can you do?
If you determine that a person is in immediate danger, call 911 or 988, the new national mental health hotline. Another option is the BEST Team, a Boston mental health crisis resource. If needed, responders may go to someone’s home for a wellness check or an ambulance will come to someone. If appropriate, you might also choose to drive someone to the emergency room if they can promise to keep themselves safe on the way.
Keep a conversation going. Continuing to talk to someone provides some delay and support. Questions that can help you find out the degree of danger include “Have you thought about how or when you would do this?” or ”How often are you thinking about this?” If they can get to a place with appropriate emergency mental health services, often the episode will pass, and the person will remain safe.
More nuanced situations require a different approach. You might find that a friend has had thoughts of harming themself while depressed, but they don’t plan to act and insist they never would, but you can see they are struggling. Or you might be worried about a spouse who has made a previous suicide attempt and is in recovery.
A first step can be to listen without judgment to your loved person. This person has trusted you with their thoughts and sees you as a potential ally against the darkness. A supportive ear AND a nudge towards treatment can be helpful in a rough moment. Do not try to take on the role of being a therapist for this person. Just listen as a friend or whatever role you play in their life. Also, don’t take it all on yourself. A person who is struggling in this way needs more than one ally in their corner.
Furthermore, you could encourage your loved one to make a safety plan with a therapist or healthcare provider. This is a document detailing their supports, distraction strategies, coping skills (which can help prevent or mitigate worsening of mental health symptoms) and emergency numbers and contacts for mental health providers. This can be kept in an easily accessible area to help them when they are struggling. It’s also handy for a roommate, family member or spouse to pull out if they need the extra support.
Being in this situation can be stressful or scary but remember that you’re never alone. In addition to involving supports related to the person you care about, you can utilize the support of your friends, relatives, or community members, suicide hotlines, mental health organizations like NAMI (the national alliance on mental illness) or consult with your own therapist at LGC.
Melissa Lee Nilles, LMHC is a licensed mental health counselor and expressive arts therapist with a Master's degree from Lesley University’s Mental Health Counseling and Expressive Arts Therapy program. She is deeply passionate about self-exploration through the arts, mindfulness practices and therapy. She seeks to collaborate with her clients using the tools of person-centered therapy, mindfulness, meditation, trauma-informed body-oriented psychotherapy and expressive arts therapy (through music therapy, art therapy, and poetry/writing therapy). Melissa also employs CBT and motivational interviewing to help you transform your life. She prefers a holistic, eclectic and interdisciplinary approach to addressing client concerns.
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