What Can I Do To Prevent Suicide?

By Stan P. Collins, Suicide Prevention Specialist

While attending the American Association of Suicidology’s annual conference in Atlanta this spring, I was amazed and inspired at the amount of work being done by clinicians and researchers in the field of suicide prevention. There are good people out there working to help solve a problem, that for far too long was only spoken about in whispers. With the Each Mind Matters movement growing in California one of our goals is to prevent suicide, but I think too often we wonder what we can do.

handonshoulderAs the Know the Signs campaign highlights, we can all “Know the Signs, Find the Words, and Reach Out” to identify and support those we love who might be thinking about suicide. Identifying who may be thinking about suicide, talking to them about it, and connecting them to professional help are cornerstones of suicide prevention. However, just because we’ve helped these individuals get to professionals doesn’t mean our job is done. This is only a piece, a very important piece, of the puzzle but the steps we can take to prevent suicide are far greater and continue long after the first appointment with a mental health professional.

Leading theories of suicide suggest that thoughts of suicide occur when pain and hopelessness combine. Thoughts of suicide move closer to an attempt when this pain begins to outweigh connectedness to others. And finally attempts occur when capacity for self-harm grow.

No one has a more direct line to our pain, hope and connectedness than those people who are central in our lives. Our friends and family, those we share our lives with, have the greatest potential to assist with reducing pain, increasing hope and helping us feeling connected.

So what can we do to help those we love who are having thoughts of suicide? What can I do to assist the mental health professionals supporting this person? What can I do?

  1. Reduce pain: Spend time with loved ones, listen to them, distract them, and divert their attention away from the pain.
  2. Increase hope: Let them know you are there for them, get them to smile, make them laugh, help them to remember that they didn’t always feel this way and there is a good chance that they will feel better again someday.
  3. Improve connection: Take their calls, pick up the phone and call them, stop by to say hello, ask them to join you for a walk, invite them to dinner, let them know how important they are in your life.
  4. Reduce capacity: Reduce access to lethal means, help to remove harmful items from their home, invite them to stay with you until they feel better or whenever they don’t want to be alone, ask them to call whenever they feel like no one is listening.

Yes, the professionals will be there ready to help but they can’t do it alone. They will need your help. Never underestimate the power that you have to help save a life.

For more information, visit www.suicideispreventable.org.