How to help those thinking of harming themselves

Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S., and advocates want people to know it’s preventable, that help is available, and seeking out support and mental health treatment is a sign of strength.

National Suicide Prevention Week aims to inform people about taking steps toward intervention.

“If there’s anyone around you — whether it’s your child, your peers, your loved ones, your spouse, partner, or even your parents — if you see anything that is concerning, we really want to encourage everyone to reach out and offer some help and have a real conversation,” said Ellen Shannon, area director for the National Capital Area Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“Also, reach out to AFSP; go to our website to look for some resources for where you can learn more about risk factors and warning signs and what you can do to help,” Shannon said.

One of the signs someone might want to harm themselves or take their own life is simply talking about it.

“Listen to what people say. We know that people that may be considering suicide, often talk about it. And whether it’s in a joking way, or they say it very seriously, we always want to take whatever they are saying very seriously,” Shannon said.

Look for changes in behavior, such as if someone becomes more reclusive, stops participating in activities they normally enjoy, or starts to use more substances or alcohol than they usually do.

If signs you’re noticing don’t “check every box” and you’re not sure, Shannon said, trust your gut. “Your gut is a very good indicator, and can definitely tell you that something is wrong,” she said.

To approach someone who is struggling, Shannon offers these tips.

  • Talk with them in private.
  • Let them know you are reaching out because you care.
  • Do more listening than talking.
  • Don’t try to fix their problems.
  • Respect and don’t judge what they’re experiencing, even if it doesn’t sound serious to you.
  • Ask the question directly: Are you thinking about suicide?

“We actually know that when you ask the question directly, that can sometimes save lives. [When] you’re putting it out there on the table, you’re letting them know that you’re a safe person that they can talk to,” Shannon said.

To help break down the stigma around suicide and give people the courage to open up about their own struggle or loss, AFSP holds community walks nationwide in the fall.

The National Capital Area Out of the Darkness Walks:

“It’s OK to seek mental health care,” Shannon said. “Providing greater access to mental health care can certainly save lives. And, just creating a culture that is smart about mental health is so incredibly important — because together, we know that we can save lives, and together we can stop suicide,” Shannon said.

On Friday, World Suicide Prevention Day, AFSP is holding a Facebook Live event from noon to 8 p.m. featuring a concert, celebrity artists and panel conversations on mental health and suicide prevention.

If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255; you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting the word TALK to 741741; or you can call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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