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How To Help Someone with Suicidal Ideation

If someone you know is at risk of suicide, paying attention to the clues – behavior, saying certain things, or expressing worrisome ideas – is an excellent place to start. Helping someone with suicidal ideation could save a life.

Suicide and Suicidal Ideation

Millions of American adults contemplate suicide every year, many plan it, and several thousand take their own lives. It’s a preventable tragedy, one requiring a concerted effort by anyone who knows someone challenged by mental health problems, other medical issues, financial difficulties, or anything else that seems beyond their control.

Suicide means taking action to harm yourself with the intent of ending your life. Suicidal ideation – all-encompassing suicidal ideas and thoughts – is equally concerning because of the danger it presents if warning signs are ignored.

How to Know If Someone Needs Help

Some red flags may help you decide if a loved one or someone else is at risk of suicide, particularly if their conduct is new, happens more often, or seems related to a painful situation, loss, or change. There are obvious signs to watch for:

  • Talking about desiring to die or kill themselves
  • Looking for a means to kill themselves, including searching the web or buying a weapon
  • You notice an increase in substance usage
  • Being anxious, agitated, or behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping problems, either too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or self-isolating from others
  • Showing anger or talking about the need for revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

Some of these warning signs can be treated with psychotherapy, self-help strategies, antidepressants or other medicine, or even ketamine therapy to help control suicidal ideation.

How to Help Someone at Risk of Suicide

Talking to someone you know is having suicidal thoughts can be difficult. You’re apprehensive, worried, and not sure what to say. But doing nothing shouldn’t be an option. There are many strategies you can use to help someone with suicidal ideation.

Questions to ask

  • How are you dealing with what’s going on in your life?
  • Are you thinking about dying?
  • Are you contemplating harming yourself?
  • Are you considering suicide?
  • Have you ever had these thoughts before, or tried to hurt yourself before?
  • Have you thought about the details – how and when?
  • Do you have open access to anything you can use as a weapon to hurt yourself?

Be aware of suicidal feelings

Some warning signs of suicidal ideation are obvious, but underpinning most of them are the feelings the other person will project. The person may express one or more of the following:

  • Seemingly endless pain
  • Unable to think clearly
  • Problems making decisions
  • Can’t visualize any way out of their predicament
  • Seemingly endless sadness
  • Can’t imagine a pain-free future 
  • Can’t see themselves as valuable
  • No one pays attention to them
  • Lack of control

Improve your listening skills

With any mental or physical health problem that can push someone toward suicide, one of the problems is that the person thinks no one listens to them and acknowledges their feelings or what they’re saying. You also can steer your friend toward professional help. The big takeaway? Improve your listening skills. Become an active listener and, by doing so, help your friend work through their troubles.

  • Recognize who’s speaking, and address the other person directly, intently, but on friendly terms.
  • Talk to the other person; nodding or body language isn’t enough.
  • Repeat back what you heard.
  • Stay engaged. This means maintaining eye contact, posture, and remaining focused.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosing mental health or medical problems that could drive a person to suicidal ideation and suicide is possible by seeing a healthcare provider specializing in psychiatric issues or otherwise has experience dealing with patients with psychological problems.

There are many ways to diagnose problems that may influence someone’s suicidal ideation. Medical tests – blood tests, imaging tests, and other diagnostic procedures – may uncover a problem that can be treated. Mental health issues typically require a visit to a specialist who will focus on thoughts, feelings, and behavior as triggers leading to suicidal ideation, as well as current mental health and family history of psychiatric problems. In either case, treatment may be possible with different forms of therapy, self-help, or newer ketamine therapy.

If you have suicidal thoughts or ideas, reach out to someone who can help. Many resources are available, including:

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