If you are contemplating suicide right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, get ahold of Crisis Text Line by texting START to 741741, or, if you are LGBTQ, call Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386. These are all incredible resources that can help you.

In this post, let’s talk about what it looks like to help someone who is thinking of taking their own life or harming themselves seriously.

The first thing that is necessary is to understand the risk factors that are prevalent in suicides. People who have access to ways to harm themselves are more likely to attempt suicide. Similarly, a person who is going through a difficult time (like breaking up with a spouse or significant other, experiencing a death, facing jail time, has a mental illness, etc.) is more likely to attempt suicide. Know that these risk factors are present and that can help you step in when necessary. And, lastly, know if the person is drinking a lot or doing other kind of drugs. These tend to lower inhibitions and make it easier for someone to make an attempt on one’s own life.

So, the first step is knowing the risk factors. If we know these then we can begin to engage in the second step, which is the most important: listening. Like I said, the most important thing you can do is listen to someone who is engaged in thoughts of hurting themselves. And this kind of listening is not simply taking in information, but actively interpreting what is being said. For example, it is not often that a person will come out and say, “I am thinking of committing suicide.” This is due to the stigma and other factors at work in our society. Instead, a person may begin to talk of how lonely they are; they may begin to talk of how the world may be better off without them; they may talk of how they cannot go on anymore. Listening to these statements and the context around which they are said means that we can begin to step in and help people who are actively engaged in wanting to harm themselves.

Listening is also important for another reason: it shows that you care and, thus, it offers hope. For many people who become suicidal, they have lost any and all attachment to the world. They have become untethered. Listening to the person and engaging the person in a conversation that offers real hope is one of the best deterrents to suicide because it does away with the reasons for suicide. For example, a person who feels totally alone and starts to sell all of his possessions may not feel like anyone hears his pain. By simply engaging and listening to his pain and then offering places for real hope and betterment of life, a suicidal person can be helped and a crisis averted.

Listening is also important because it allows you to begin to ask the question of if a person is contemplating suicide and to what extent. Now, it is never good to simply launch into the question, “Are you suicidal?” or “Do you want to kill yourself?” A person is not likely to admit to this, especially at first. So, it is necessary to engage in conversation and ask pointed questions, such as “Have you thought the world would be better off without you?” or “Do you ever think of harming yourself?” or “Has suicide ever crossed your mind?” These are all questions that avoid the stigma of suicide while also opening a way for the person in trouble to open up to you. And, in all honesty, this is a very uncomfortable conversation but a necessary one in order to save a life.

After listening to the person and understanding that they could be at risk for suicide, it is now necessary to help them get help. This comes from a twofold approach of persuading a person to stay alive and then referring them to the necessary places to get help. 

Persuading can be difficult. You believe that a person is suicidal and now you need to persuade them that they need help and that they need to stay alive. In this step, you begin by persuading someone to stay alive until they can get begin to get help. And you do this by also persuading them to contact people that will help them, as well as giving up the means that they may have for ending their life. So, you may have them call a sibling or a parent and stay with that person, while also asking for their gun or medicine or whatever is available for them to engage in self-harm. This act of persuasion helps the person know there is hope as well as that somebody cares.

The last thing to do for a suicidal person is refer them to care. Ideally, you do this immediately, especially if the person is really struggling and on the verge. There are places where you can take a suicidal person in your area that can help them – find one of these places, usually a treatment facility, before taking them to the emergency room. However, if a person is really struggling and you believe they will engage in serious self-harm if you do not act, you can always call 911 or take them to an emergency room.

Usually, though, you can refer someone to a counselor and/or doctor and make sure that they follow up. It is a good idea to take them to said appointments if you can, or to have someone else that you and the person trust take them to the appointments. The idea is to ensure that they get help and do so in a very quick, expedient manner.

This is a modified version of the teachings of the QPR Institute.