What do you do when someone tells you they are thinking about suicide?

When someone brings up
thoughts of suicide to you, you have already done something right. 

This is a repost with permission. Amy McNally is a musician in Madison and a friend. Please share this. There is someone in your social circle who needs to read this. 

Originally posted by sweetmusic_27 at International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day 2014

November 22 is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.

Four years ago, my mother committed suicide.
I still struggle coming to terms not only with her death, but with my
family’s wider history of suicide. My maternal grandfather and
great-uncle died by suicide, my sister made an attempt, and I have
struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts since puberty.

I talk about these things, people shy away. It’s a frightening subject,
but if we want to help people who are suicidal, we need to understand
what suicide really means, how it works, and how to respond to people
contemplating it. Remember, talking about suicide does not cause someone
to be suicidal. If you’re worried about someone, it is safe to bring up
the topic of suicide.

is the act of taking one’s own life, and suicidality – the tendency
toward or risk of suicide – is an illness like any other.
people have this sickness temporarily, others fight it their whole
lives. In my family, it’s hereditary. All too often, it’s fatal. It
takes over your mind and body and you die from it. When that happens, as
a society, we tend not to talk about it too much. It’s a very quiet
killer, rendered quieter by stigma, taboo, awkwardness, and

Suicide is not selfish. Imagine that your
thoughts and emotions make up a house. My mother’s mental house faded
around the edges. Room by room, the space available to her shrank until
she was left a hallway, trapped in a narrow place. It’s not that she was
thinking of herself; it’s that she couldn’t think of anyone, anything.

nobody’s fault when this medical condition takes hold. As many as one
in six people become seriously suicidal at some point in their lives.
While it is not directly caused by depression, anxiety, drug use, or
other risk factors, about 90% of suicidal people have mental issues that
involve or worsen seriously suicidal thoughts. These issues can be

If someone brings up the topic of suicide with you, don’t panic. Don’t lecture, and don’t make demands. Start by listening.
Someone reaching out to you is a very good sign. First of all, it means
they trust you. Second, if an individual is sharing these thoughts with
you, there is something stopping or delaying them from completing
suicide. It is safe to ask, “What’s stopping you, and how can we focus
on that?”

Here are some other “do’s” and “don’ts” for such a conversation. We all need to be ready to support our friends and family.

Do try to have the conversation in private. Don’t promise to keep the contents of the conversation private, though. It’s important that you be willing to get help if someone you know is in crisis.

try to say something, even if it’s “wow, I’m sorry,” or “well, crap.”
You don’t have to instantly become a perfect therapist. A friend of mine
reached out to some of her friends, and they reacted with silence. “You
could have heard a pin drop,” she told me. “Nobody said a thing.” It
made her feel distanced, alone.

If the person you’re talking to
mentions a certain means of committing suicide, it’s safe to bring up
ways to remove or limit that means. “Do you want me to keep your gun for
a while? Do you keep ammo in the house?” “When you say you’re thinking
about swallowing pills, are they pills you have? Can you get someone to
dose out a week at a time instead of having the whole bottle around?”
“You mentioned slitting your wrists. Is looking at knives or razors hard
for you? I can come over and help you get those things out of the house
for a while. Want to go shopping for an electric shaver together?”
Bringing this up is not harmful and will not give anyone ideas. Don’t
press for action, just let them know there are options.

check back in. Be ready for things not to suddenly be better. The mental
issues surrounding suicidality don’t go away quickly. If you can, try
to communicate that it’s okay to still be struggling.

There are many resources for those who are suicidal or talking to people who are considering suicide. America’s Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and anyone in crisis can use their online chat to talk to a counselor. Similarly, IMAlive is an online chat-based Hopeline staffed by trained volunteers, and the Kristin Brooks Hope Center’s Hopeline phone number is 1-800-442-HOPE (4673).

you’re suicidal, there are people who can help. If you are not, the
odds are that somebody in your life will be or has been before, and you
can still help by being willing to educate yourself and others, and
being willing to say the word “suicide.”

When someone brings up
thoughts of suicide to you, you have already done something right.
You’re the one they trust, you’re the one who feels safe. “Suicide” is a scary word, but talking about it doesn’t kill you, and being ready to listen might help someone live.

time you share this post or other information on suicide, you help to
fight the stigma, break the taboo, and dispel the myths. Feel free to
link back to this. Feel free to comment here with other links and
resources and stories. Feel free to talk to me about suicide.

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