No one is immune to the occasional adversities which unveil themselves in life from time to time. Most take on the form of irritating challenges, but there are a few that inflict overwhelming pain, hardship, and sorrow that are debilitating. Even the mentally strong can have a breaking point when it comes to experiencing a major pandemic, loss of a loved one, declining health, financial ruin, divorce, and other life-changing disruptions. Bottom line…a person in crisis can be anyone of us given the proper circumstances.
When it comes to your loved ones, friends, and colleagues, how well are you prepared to help them during an emotional crisis? Can you determine when they are spiraling out of control to the point of being suicidal?
If someone important to you appears to be in distress, use the following steps to determine what to do next to prevent the risk of suicide.
Observe the person for warning signs that indicate serious mental health concerns, including suicidal tendencies.
According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, the key warning signs include:
- Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead,” or “I wish I hadn’t been born.”
- Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills.
- Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone.
- Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next.
- Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence.
- Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation.
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs.
- Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns.
- Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly.
- Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this.
- Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.
- Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above.
Important: No one warning sign by itself affirms that someone is suicidal. However, a combination of these signs could indicate a serious cause for concern. This is especially true if someone has attempted suicide in the past.
Do what you can to provide guidance and support to the person who is contemplating suicide in response to an emotional crisis.
You can help in the following ways…
Be available and demonstrate to the person that you genuinely care about his or her well-being.
Establish ongoing lines of communication that allow the person to openly express his or her feelings to you.
Encourage the individual to seek the professional treatment required to recover. Advise the individual to consult with a doctor or mental health specialist. You may also suggest finding assistance via his or her school, church, a crises center, or specialized support groups.
Help to facilitate the person’s steps to recovery by researching out viable treatment opportunities, setting up appointments, addressing insurance benefits and financial requirements, and accompanying the person to certain consultations or meetings.
Monitor how you respond to the person with suicidal feelings.
To interact with someone in emotional pain, use these insights as your guide.
Keep your cool.
A mental health crisis can provoke a range of negative emotions for both you and the person you are trying to help. Don’t make things worse by losing control of your own emotions in the presence of the person.
Understand your limitations.
Without the appropriate mental health background, stay within the scope of what you can safely do to lend support. Seek information and guidance on suicide prevention and other self-destructive behaviors, but let the trained professionals take the lead.
Acknowledge the person’s feelings.
In your interactions with someone who is suicidal, do NOT challenge his or her emotions. They are real to him or her and your display of disapproval or disbelief will most likely shut down the communication. Keep your judgement to yourself and show the person respect if you want to be supportive.
Offer hope for positive changes.
When someone is suicidal, life looks bleak and meaningless. Reassure the person that things will get better with the appropriate treatment. Help the individual realize that he or she will NOT be traveling on the road to recovery alone.
You will lose invaluable trust and make matters worse by promising the person one thing and doing another. Be true to your word and reliable with your actions. Make no promises to keep secrets about the person’s suicidal feelings or behaviors if such secrets might later compromise his or her safety.
Follow-up with the person during the recovery process.
Staying connected to the person throughout the recovery process can be surprisingly beneficial to his or her success. It does not take much to occasionally let the person know you are thinking about him or her. A simple text, phone call, or email will suffice, but spending in-person time to visit with him or her is even better.
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Written by: Patricia K. Flanigan, Smart Strategies for Successful Living
Patricia K. Flanigan has worked in higher education for over 28 years. She holds a doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of La Verne as well as a M.A. in Latin American Studies and B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before retiring and moving to Idaho in 2015, she served as the dean of online education and learning resources at Saddleback College, a large community college in Southern California. She currently consults in higher education, volunteers for AARP, writes for a local magazine, and serves as an Affiliate Faculty member at Boise State University and a contributing member to LEARN Idaho. Since February 2017, she has been the founding director for Smart Strategies for Successful Living, a community-based website designed to promote quality aging. As an educator, her focus is to inspire others to live and age well.
What Is Mental Health: CLICK HERE
Suicide: Prevention Strategies: CLICK HERE
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Suicide Prevention: CLICK HERE.
Source: National Institute of Mental Health
Key Help Lines (In the United States)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-TALK (8255) This service is not limited to helping those who are contemplating suicide. Their trained operators can help with other mental health crises as well. They also offer confidential help for veterans and their families.
- Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741741 This service provides support and intervention via text messaging.
- National Sexual Assault Hotline – 800-656-HOPE (4673) This hotline provides confidential support and connection to resources for survivors of sexual assault. They also have an online chat option accessible through their website.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Referral Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357) This organization directs people to local mental health services and resources