How to Get Help for Suicidal Thoughts

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
This lesson talks about getting help for a friend or family member who is having suicidal thoughts or getting help for yourself. It covers what to do immediately if someone is having active suicidal thoughts and offers longer term solutions as well.

Who Needs to Get Help

Brandon has been having a difficult time lately; things just don't seem to be happening for him the way they used to. He is starting to feel depressed and anxious. It seems that even simple, daily chores are going wrong and he is afraid to try anything.

His friend Sarah notices that Brandon's attitude is changing. He doesn't want to be happy anymore. When she suggests that they go for a bike ride, he tells her that he just wants to stay home. She talks about a movie and he says that he doesn't like that kind of movie anymore. He seems disinterested in all of the things that used to make him happy. In listening to him, she also thinks that he is starting to consider suicide because he believes his life is only going to get worse.

Unfortunately, neither Brandon or Sarah know where to go for help. Everyone needs to understand what they can do for themselves, or a friend or family member, when thoughts of suicide intrude.

What if a Friend is Having Suicidal Thoughts?

What does Sarah need to know so that she can get Brandon the help he needs? If she suspects that he is thinking about suicide, her first action should be to talk to him about what he feels. She should not be afraid that talking about suicide will give him the idea to do it. Brandon needs to talk with someone and a friend is a great place to start.

During her talk with him, she can start by asking him about what he feels, and then suggest to him that he may need to talk to someone else about these feelings. As a friend, she can lead him to talking to a mental health or medical professional. She could get the number for the national suicide hotline (800-273-TALK), help him search for counselors in his area or take him to an emergency room if the thoughts are acute.

Most importantly though, there are two primary actions a friend or family member can take if they suspect that someone they care about is having suicidal thoughts:

  • Stay with them: A person who is actively having suicidal ideation (thoughts) should not be by themselves. Being there for them protects them because suicide is a private act and because they need someone to talk to and understand what they are going through.
  • Get the individual to talk about it: Everyone needs someone who cares that they can talk to. When an individual is contemplating suicide, that need is magnified. Sometimes the person with suicidal thoughts will not want to talk, but they will open up if a friend or family member show interest and is willing to actively listen.

Getting Help for Yourself

It is common that an individual having suicidal thoughts will also be depressed. Unfortunately, one of the symptoms of depression is someone who is lethargic; an individual who does not want to interact with other people. That is why suicide is such a silent crime and people wonder afterwards why they didn't know a loved one was suicidal. But, if you are having suicidal thoughts, you need to overcome your fear, lethargy or whatever is making you unwilling to talk.

Mental health professionals are trained to help you find the answers to the problems that have become so bleak that you now are considering suicide. They can help you by getting you the help resources you need, or they can just sit and talk to you about alternatives. There are other answers besides the one that seems the easiest right now.

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