Preventing suicide: We can all save a life
It’s hard to know what to say when someone shares their mental health struggles with you. Psychiatrist Jeffrey Raynor, MD, offered some advice on how to have these conversations because the life you save will probably be close to you.
Why is it important to talk about mental health?
Dr. Raynor said the stigma of having a mental health issue holds many people back from seeking treatment. But talking about mental health with empathy and compassion can change that.
“Words matter. Using any sort of negative terms, whether saying that somebody is crazy or that they should just get over it, are things that we should avoid, both for our own mental health and for those around us.”
He said it’s important to speak up when we hear those distortions, even if it’s difficult.
“Say something as simple as, ‘You don’t know what that person’s going through.’ It can have an impact to change the way they talk about things. And for all you know that person might have some of those same thoughts themselves and so you’ve given them just a little bit of permission to be able to get help. The words we use can have a real impact on people’s mental health.”
What are signs that someone needs help?
A person’s response to stress can come and go depending on what’s going on, causing them to feel sad or anxious.
“With a depressive or anxiety disorder, those symptoms can be much more persistent,” said Dr. Raynor. “Sometimes people who are depressed will describe it as kind of like a weight or pressure on them that doesn’t go away.”
Examples of a disorder include:
- Feeling hopeless and that things just won’t get any better
- Feelings of intense low self esteem
- Feeling like you’re a burden to other people and not wanting to live anymore
“Those are all things that you can’t just get over by yourself. You really need to seek out professional care. When in doubt, it’s better to get support,” Dr. Raynor said.
What should you say to someone who’s troubled?
The most important thing to know is that it is okay to ask someone if they’re having suicidal thoughts. Research indicates that talking about suicidal ideas can reduce suicidal thoughts and help people to have better outcomes.
If someone is expressing feelings of hopelessness, here are some helpful things you can say:
- I can’t imagine how painful this is for you, but I’d like to try and understand.
- I’m glad you’re telling me about all of this and how you’re feeling.
- How long have you been having these feelings?
- Does it ever get so tough that you think about ending your life?
- Have you thought about hurting yourself?
- Do you think about dying?
- Do you have a plan?
- Do you have a means to carry it out?
You can assure them that help is available and that you would like to help them find their way to that help.
Where can you find help for someone who’s contemplating suicide?
Dr. Raynor offered these resources, which are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year:
- Visit Hope.ConnectsYou.org – An anonymous self-check questionnaire for ages 18 and older
- Call 1-833-364-2274 – SC Department of Mental Health’s Mobile Crisis Line
- Text “HOPE4SC” to 741741 – SC Crisis Text Line
- Call 1-800-273-8255 – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 – Veterans Crisis Line
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