According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide remains a leading cause of death, with 135 Americans dying by suicide every day. Unfortunately, no one is immune to suicide. It occurs among people of every age, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
However, there is help available.
Call 988. This is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is also available at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). It provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. It is there 24 hours, 7 days a week. There are crisis counselors if you are in crisis in the middle of the night and you need to talk, and they can also get you resources in your area. By phone, text, and chat, there are services available in both English and Spanish. There is also a Veterans Crisis Line and interpretation into over 240 languages.
However, always call 911 if you need medical or emergency assistance or you no longer feel safe as suicidal thoughts have increased to the point that you may take action on those thoughts. Emergency responders will come to you if you call 911.
It is important for you to have someone you can talk to when things get tough. You don’t need to struggle alone or in silence. It is also important that you find a therapist and that when talking to your therapist you are openly communicating and honest about any suicidal thoughts you are experiencing. The ultimate goal of therapy is to create a safe space where a client feels comfortable communicating openly and honestly.
If you have a therapist who isn’t willing to work openly and collaboratively with you, then find one who is. You can also seek out a support group in your area — you can look online at PsychologyToday.com, or perhaps your therapist might have suggestions about local groups in your area.
Ask that person whether they are struggling with thoughts about suicide. Don’t ever be afraid that asking someone about suicide is going to make them suicidal or follow through with a plan. That is not the case. Research shows that you will not make someone suicidal by asking them about it. This fear is particularly significant among parents and teenagers.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your children about suicide. It is especially important to do so if there have been recent suicides in the media or in your community. Directly addressing the topic and introducing positive coping strategies can reduce suicide contagion, the phenomenon by which indirect exposure to suicide influences others to attempt or die by suicide. Among youth this can lead to suicide clusters, or multiple suicides around the same time, typically a three-month period, and the same location, usually one town or school. Suicide clusters often occur among youth, underscoring the importance of parents openly communicating with their children.
Empathize with the person and don’t minimize. For example, if someone tells you they are feeling suicidal, asking them what they have to be upset about or to just “think happy thoughts” can make them feel even more hopeless.
It is also our knee-jerk reaction to tell someone it’s not true when they say things like, “I am a burden to my family, and they would be better off without me.” However, telling them they are wrong minimizes their experience, because in that moment that is truly how they feel. It is far better to empathize with them and say something like “I am so sorry you are feeling that way, I can’t imagine how hard that must be, but I want you to know that is not how I feel, and I really can’t imagine your family feels that way either.”
During the conversation, ask your friend or family member what they need from you and what you can do. It is human nature to react and go into persuasion mode, but that can have the effect of making the person feel worse — actually making them feel as if they haven’t been heard. Simply asking what they need will help you meet their needs directly; they might just need someone to listen and not say anything. Most important, remember, you are not their therapist. So, while being a support system is great, it is also important that they get the professional help they need.
It cannot be emphasized enough that suicidal thoughts are both common and treatable. Research shows that one in four people in the population will experience suicidal thoughts at some point in their life. If you are experiencing such thoughts, it is important to know that you are not alone in this, and there is help available.
While the stigma about mental health problems is diminishing, it still exists. All too often people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts don’t want to talk openly about them, then feel that they have to handle matters on their own, in silence — a feeling exacerbated by thinking they are a burden to the people around them, a thought that is the byproduct of the suicidal brain and not a fact.
If you suspect that someone you know is struggling, ask them to get coffee or lunch. Send them a text to say you were thinking about them and ask them how they are. People who are struggling with suicide feel that they are a burden on others, so they are less likely to be the ones reaching out — while research shows that kind follow ups, even just postcards from research studies, reduce suicide. So imagine what an invite from a friend could do.
Note: This content originally appeared on Mind Matters from Menninger, our blog on PsychologyToday.com.