5 Things to Know About Suicide: #1 Ask Straight Out

Photo courtesy of DCoE website.

Photo courtesy of DCoE website.

They’re called “responders” – the folks at the other end of the Veterans Crisis Line. But they aren’t the only ones serving on the front-line of suicide prevention.

As a society, as colleagues, as friends, as family, we cannot leave the work of suicide prevention to the “responders” alone.

It is up to all of us to act or at least “ask” if we see someone unduly stressed according to psychologist, Dr. Caitlin Thompson, deputy director of suicide prevention at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“If worried – asking people straight out saying, ‘I’m so concerned about how you seem to be, have you been thinking about suicide at all?'” Thompson advised. “It’s just that simple really to just ask the question that can be a very scary question.”

It’s time to stop being “scared” and start becoming informed.

Here are tips from the Defense Suicide Prevention Office website:

How to ask the question

There is no evidence to suggest that asking someone if they are having thoughts about hurting themselves causes suicide. When asking about this, be direct – for example, ask “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” or “Are things so bad that you’re considering suicide?”

Remember, if you never ask, there is no way to intervene and get the person help. Even if they aren’t thinking about it, they will know you are concerned about them and what they are going through.

You don’t need to be an expert

A common myth about suicide is that you can’t do anything if someone is suicidal because you’re not an expert. This isn’t the case. You don’t need to be an expert in psychological health to recognize when someone you care about is having a hard time.

Know the warning signs

The best way to prevent suicide is to recognize troubling signs. Some of the most common warning signs to look for in an individual include:

  • Expressing hopelessness, like there’s no way out
  • Appearing sad or depressed most of the time
  • Feeling anxious, agitated or unable to sleep
  • Neglecting personal well-being
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Losing interest in day-to-day activities
  • Frequent and dramatic mood changes
  • Expressing feelings of excessive guilt or shame
  • Feelings of failure or decreased performance
  • Feeling like there’s no reason to live
  • Increased alcohol or drug abuse
  • Talking about death

Learn what to do

If you don’t ask, there’s no way to intervene and get help. Experts suggest the following advice for family and friends who suspect someone is suicidal:

  • Trust your instincts that the person may be in trouble
  • Be willing to listen
  • Ask direct questions without being judgmental (“Are you thinking about killing yourself?” or “Have you ever tried to end your life?” or “Do you think you might try to kill yourself today?”)
  • Determine if the person has a specific plan to carry out the suicide
  • Don’t leave the person alone
  • Don’t swear to secrecy
  • Don’t act shocked
  • Don’t counsel the person yourself
  • Get professional help on the phone or escort the person to a counselor, chaplain or other professional mental health provider
  • Remove potential means of self-harm

Know how to get help

Free, confidential help is available 24/7 through the Military Crisis Line (also known as the Veterans Crisis Line and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) at 800-273-8255 (military members and veterans press 1).

You can also online chat with a Military Crisis Line responder or send a text to 838255.

Even if there’s no immediate crisis, trained counselors can offer guidance on how to help someone and point you to services (for mental health and substance abuse) and resources (suicide prevention coordinators).

A lot of circumstances can contribute to mental health issues, but there’s help online.

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