Understanding the issues concerning suicide and mental health is an important way to take part in suicide prevention, help others in crisis and change the conversation around suicide. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which is a time to shed light on this highly taboo and stigmatized topic.

It can be frightening if someone you love talks about suicidal thoughts. It can be even more frightening if you find yourself thinking about dying or giving up on life. Not taking these kinds of thoughts seriously can have devastating outcomes. Knowing the warning signs may help determine if you or a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased or seems related to a painful event, loss or change. Here are a few warning signs of suicide:

•Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves.

•Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun.

•Talking about being a burden to others.

•Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

•Increased alcohol and drug use.

•Aggressive behavior.

•Withdrawal from friends, family and community.

•Dramatic mood swings.

•Impulsive or reckless behavior.

If someone you know has any of these symptoms, or is struggling emotionally, you may be the difference in getting them the help they need. It can be scary when a friend or loved one is thinking about suicide.

Here are five action steps you can take for communicating with someone who may be suicidal:

Ask: Asking the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” communicates that you’re open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way. Make sure you listen and take their answers seriously. You can also ask “How do you hurt?” and “How can I help?” Do not ever promise to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret.

Keep them safe: Establish immediate safety by finding out if they have already done anything to try to kill themselves before talking with you. Remove any means like weapons or pills.

Be there: This could mean being physically present for someone, speaking with them on the phone when you can or any other way that shows support for the person at risk.

Help them connect: Helping someone with thoughts of suicide connect with ongoing supports can help them establish a safety net for those moments they find themselves in a crisis.

Follow-up: Make sure to follow-up with them to see how they’re doing. It helps increase their feelings of connectedness and share your ongoing support.

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) at any time. You can also text NAMI to 741-741 to receive 24/7 support. If you or a loved one is in immediate danger, calling 9-1-1 and talking with the police may be necessary.

The truth is, we can all benefit from honest conversations about mental health conditions and suicide, because just one conversation can change a life.

You can find out more about preventing suicide at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Suicide Prevention Lifeline

E-mail comments to jenl@northwestsignal.net.

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