6 Ways to Help Someone Who Is Suicidal, from Those Who Have Been There
The first time I tried to take my life I was 17 years old. I wrote a note and made a plan. I collected what I needed to execute said plan, and I headed to a nearby park where I made a suicide attempt. But a strange thing happened that warm June day. While I gave in and attempted to give up, I didn’t die. I woke up, very much alive. And though a part of me was relieved, I was also terrified.
Nineteen years have passed and I am still terrified.
Because things didn’t change when I got up and woke up. The pain didn’t go away, and it never would. I live with chronic suicidal ideations. They are a symptom of my illness. I regularly fantasize about death and my demise, and I am not alone. While tens of thousands of people die by suicide each year, the American Association of Suicidology estimates a quarter million more become “survivors.” This means hundreds of people “wake up” each and every day.
The good news is my support network has grown. I have stability, security and a crisis intervention plan. I also have an amazing psychiatrist and counselor. But I still struggle. Like anyone, I have good days and bad ones. And on my bad days, I need encouragement. I need backing. I need support.
Here are six things you can do to help someone who is suicidal, according to those who have been there.
1. Listen, without shame, judgement or fear.
“I’ve attempted twice, and as much as I don’t want to be around people when I get to these points, it’s what I need most. Not even to talk necessarily, but being able to just sit in a safe place with safe people. Nights are also harder for me, so people who text me at night to check in has also helped a ton.” — Genevieve D.
“When I’m having a bad day I reach out to friends. Admitting I’m not OK helps immensely.” — Kimberly C.
“I only want someone (usually my partner) to listen to me without judging me or trying to ‘help me feel better’ or offering solutions to my pain.”— Dee C.
2. Provide transportation to and from doctor’s appointments or a hot meal.
“One of the things I found most helpful was not being by myself, or alone with my thoughts. That and getting rides to places because I couldn’t think clearly enough to drive myself anywhere.” — Erin C.
“Even though I usually don’t have an appetite when I’m depressed or suicidal, being offered food or a hot meal makes me feel humanized, cared for and loved.” — Deborah W.
3. Check-in, consistently and regularly.
“Consistent communication. Checking in. Being there to listen to the thoughts in my head. Reassuring me that this will pass but that it is real in the moment. Having others there to help lessen the burden of what is going on in my head.” — Devi H.
“I have a close circle of friends who I ask to check-in on me if I go silent for a few days, or ‘dark.’ Why? Because I know I struggle to ask for help but if someone asks me how I am I will admit things are tough and fess up.” — Kimberly Z.
4. Join them on a walk or just to watch TV or a movie.
“I needed someone to just be with me. Not give me a pep talk on how amazing life is, not send me to some ‘professional,’ but just be with me, let me feel loved and wanted, give me a hand to hold, or a loving hug, stay with me throughout the night, make me a hot meal, hand me a glass of water. It was the simple things in life that I really needed, that the lack of them was what pushed me to the edge.” — Keren R.
“Having someone willing to sit with me and/or be in my presence all the time. I didn’t want to talk all the time, but it made me feel like at least if someone else was there babysitting me, I wouldn’t harm myself.” — Jennifer R.
5. Give reassurance.
“I haven’t experienced suicidal thoughts but my teen daughter has. Some of the stuff that helped her most was when I reminded her, over and over, that intrusive thoughts are usually the furthest thing from what you would actually do.” — Anonymous
“Hearing I am not bad, crazy or alone is huge. Being reminded these thoughts will pass is imperative, and just being seen helps.” — Deborah W.
6. Help them remove tools that can be used for an attempt or self-harm.
“My roommate asked me if I wanted her to put away anything that could be used as self-harm, and while I wouldn’t have thought to ask someone to do this, I’m glad she did.” — Jennifer R.