September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time to shed light on a topic that is too often stigmatized. One person dies from suicide every 11 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a staggering statistic, but it’s important to remember there is hope. While it’s never an easy topic to discuss, making the effort to have a conversation can save lives.
To help spread the word about steps we can all take to prevent suicide, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline challenges everyone to #BeThe1To. The initiative outlines five evidence-supported ways to communicate with someone who may be suicidal with a goal of reframing the conversation around suicide to promote healing and provide hope.
be the one to …
Studies have shown that acknowledging and talking about suicidal ideation may reduce those thoughts, so don’t be afraid to ask in a direct, unbiased manner if someone is having suicidal thoughts. It communicates that you are open to discussion in a non-judgemental and supportive way. This offers an individual the opportunity to voice their emotional pain and along with their reasons to continue to stay alive. Make sure you take the conversation seriously and help them focus on their reasons to continue living.
… be there.
Show support for someone in any way you can, whether that’s being physically present or speaking on the phone. Research indicates that limiting isolation and increasing a person’s connectedness to others is a strong defense against suicide. If you cannot be there yourself, talk with the individual about who or what could serve as an effective source of support. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver, and be sure to focus on listening to the needs of the person.
… keep them safe.
If you establish that someone is having suicidal thoughts, take steps for their immediate safety. Ask more questions to learn if they’ve attempted suicide before or if they have a specific and detailed plan. Knowing this information can help you determine how imminent the danger is. The more pieces of the plan that are in place, the greater the capacity for it to be enacted. Research has shown that reducing access to lethal means, especially a person’s chosen method, reduces risk. The idea is to put time and distance between the person and their means to commit suicide. If the threat is immediate and you are unsure what to do, the 988 lifeline or local crisis helplines can be a resource.
… help them stay connected.
If someone is experiencing thoughts of suicide, connect them with ongoing support to establish a safety net. Help them explore mental health resources that are available, and work to develop a safety plan, so they know their options during a crisis. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline found that callers were more likely to be feel less depressed, suicidal and overwhelmed after talking with Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training-trained counselors. This is thanks in part to interventions, such as listening without judgment, exploring reasons for living and creating a network of support.
… follow up.
Check in after having that initial conversation and offer immediate support. This is another way to increase a person’s feeling of connectedness. Steps as simple as texting, visiting their home or mailing a postcard can have an impact. Studies have shown that number of deaths by suicide in high risk populations decreases when people follow up and provide supportive, ongoing contact.
a devastating impact
- Suicide was responsible for more than 48,000 deaths in 2021.
- In 2021, an estimated 12.3 million adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million made a plan, and 1.7 million attempted suicide.
- For every death by suicide there are about:
- 3 hospitalizations for self-harm.
- 8 suicide-related emergency department visits.
- 38 self-reported suicide attempts.
- 265 people who seriously consider suicide.
For immediate assistance with suicidal thoughts, you can call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or visit 988lifeline.org/chat to chat.