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How to Help a Loved One With Thoughts of Suicide

*Important Disclaimer: 

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, help is available. Please contact 988, 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-NYC-WELL, to speak with a 24/7 crisis counselor. 

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and although for many suicide is a painful or distressing subject to discuss, it is important to know how to help a loved one who may be experiencing thoughts of suicide. Suicide risk requires emergency care, however, therapists are trained to educate people on suicide awareness, warning signs and safety measures. Below are some informative therapist reminders: 

  1. Never be afraid to ask your loved one about suicidal thoughts, it will not increase their risk of suicide. In fact, asking only makes people safer. These questions can include: “ How are you getting by? ”

“ Have you ever thought of hurting yourself? ” 

“ Do you ever think of killing yourself? ” 

  1. If your loved one is openly talking to you about their thoughts of suicide, it shows a level of safety because they are trying to connect with you, and possibly ask for help. Try to get more information from your loved one. If they are not willing to continue talking, that can be a warning sign that they are reaching a high level of risk. Other signs of high risk include if they have an active plan (method, time, place) or intent to harm themselves.
  2. If your loved one says “yes” to your questions about suicidal thoughts, always validate their feelings without judgement, actively listen to them, and refer them to speak with a crisis counselor (988). Being in the moment with your loved one, showing concern, and gently encouraging them to express their distress can save their life.

Suicidal thoughts can be the mind trying to escape feelings of pain. A crisis counselor may encourage your loved one to create a safety plan that helps build confidence in learning how to cope with these painful feelings. A safety plan can look like: 

  1. Having the person name / become aware of events or circumstances that make them feel less safe with themselves. These can be warning signs or triggers that a crisis could be developing.
  2. Having the person name things they can do by themselves that help quiet down or distract them from thoughts of suicide. These are called Internal Coping Strategies and they can be as simple as listening to music, watching a favorite show, playing a favorite game, or cooking a favorite meal.
  3. Having the person name people and places that can help quiet down or distract them from thoughts of suicide. These are called External Coping Strategies, and they allow people to seek the support of others, even if that means just spending time doing something fun.
  4. Having the person name people they can call or places they can go to when the thoughts don’t stop. Essentially people they feel comfortable confiding in, and talking to about their thoughts of suicide. This can include giving people crisis #’s like 988 and locating one's nearest emergency room.
  5. Having the person name the ways they can make their environment safer: Removing weapons or means of causing harm. Staying with a family member or friend so they are not alone.
  6. Having the person name the reason why they are still with us- highlighting meaning can be a powerful safety tool, and can build a person’s confidence in their ability to keep themselves safe.

Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone. A crisis counselor will know whether or not your loved one needs immediate emergency intervention, and can help you ensure that they receive appropriate, compassionate care. 

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, help is available. Please contact 988, 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-NYC-WELL, to speak with a 24/7 crisis counselor.

Siena Vaccara, LMHC Siena Vaccara received her master’s in Mental Health & Psychological Counseling from Columbia University. Siena believes in encouraging personal growth through education, cultural awareness, and building trusting relationships. She utilizes Feminist and Narrative treatment plans, as well as Cognitive Behavioral and Person-Centered techniques in session to incorporate an integrative psychotherapy approach that honors the unique needs of individuals. She understands the importance of the collaborative therapeutic space being non-judgemental, unbiased, open-minded, and strength-driven. Siena treats individuals with concerns ranging from personal transitions to family planning, identity, mood fluctuations, and stressful life events.

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