How to Help Someone
If you are worried about a friend, family member, or loved one, know that there are steps you can take to help him/her, keep him/her safe, and connect him/her with services. While you can help your loved one, know it is not your responsibility or role to provide him/her with counseling. Instead, it is your role to directly ask about suicide and to help him/her connect with the mental health services available in your community.
You can use our List of Warning Signs to determine if your loved one is showing signs of distress.
If you feel your loved one is showing signs of distress, use the steps and resources below to let him/her know you care, keep him/her safe, and to connect him/her with mental health services. Professional services do help individuals everyday who are struggling with thoughts of suicide.
How do you help someone when you realize he/she may be experiencing a crisis?
Ask your loved one if he/she is having thoughts of suicide. Just asking this question may seem too simple OR it may seem scary. But research shows that asking individuals if they are having thoughts of suicide is essential to knowing intent. Research also shows that once individuals struggling with suicidality are given the chance to have an open conversation, it can provide a sense of relief and opportunity to seek help.
Asking about thoughts of suicide can be hard. But there are well-tested conversation tips which you can follow to help guide you through a caring conversation! Asking a loved one about suicidal thoughts should be part of a larger conversation and not a question alone. A caring conversation can make a difference.
Follow the conversation tips listed below to help you feel confident in having a tough conversation with someone you care about!
Tips to have helpful conversations involving thoughts of suicide:
1. Make observations rather than stating opinions:
You may have noticed that a loved one is more angry, lonely, or tense than usual. When you want to check in, you can make a statement about what you’ve observed rather than what you think is happening.
Non-helpful statement: “You don’t ever want to hang out anymore.”
Helpful statement: “I’ve missed you at the last few game nights. What have you been up to?”
2. Ask open-ended questions:
When you are worried about a loved one, your ultimate purpose is to get information from him/her on how he/she is really doing. Open ended questions can help you get a real glimpse into just this.
Non-Helpful Statement: “Have you been busy lately?”
Helpful Statement: “How has work been going?”
3. Paraphrase shared information:
Paraphrasing is just stating (in a non-judgmental tone) what your loved one already said. It shows that you are really listening to what he/she shares. It also gives a chance to clarify or expand on what has been shared.
Example: Love one says “I’ve just been so exhausted after all the drama at work that I need to get home and relax.” Paraphrase: “So there’s been a lot of stressful stuff happening with work lately.”
4. Validate feelings:
Validation is a fancy word for showing your loved one that you understand how experiences might be frustrating. Validation means you help someone normalize his/her negative experience as something stressful, but also manageable.
Example: Loved one says, “I feel like I have no say in anything right now. My boss micro-manages me at work and then I come home and my family does the same thing– giving me 100 more things to work on and do!” Validating response: “Dealing with a lot of outside control can be really hard. It makes sense that you haven’t felt like you can join game nights lately.”
5. Ask “the” question and follow up on it:
It is important if your loved one has been exhibiting warning signs to ask a direct question about suicide. Don’t poke around the question by asking similar questions that could mean something else and don’t ask the question in a way which it indicates that you want him/her to say no.
Non-helpful ask 1: “Have you thought about hurting yourself?”
Non-helpful ask 2: “You wouldn’t kill yourself, right?”
Helpful ask 1: “I care about you a lot and I want to help keep you safe. So I feel like it’s important to ask, ‘Are you having thoughts of suicide?'”
Helpful ask 2: “It sounds like you’ve been having a really tough time. And I want to be here for you in whatever way you need. So I want to check with you: Have you had thoughts of suicide?”
If your loved one says yes, it is important to then follow up on that statement and link him/her with resources. Don’t leave a loved one alone if he/she is in crisis. Help connect your loved one to the resources that can help.
If your loved one shares that he/she is having thoughts of suicide, your next step is to keep him/her safe & connect with mental health services.
It is important to identify if your loved one has an immediate desire, plan, & access to attempt suicide. You can identify this by directly asking if he/she has a plan for suicide. If so, you know he/she is in immediate risk and you should stay present with your loved one until additional support services can arrive or go with your loved one to support services.
Connecting a loved one to mental health services can also seem scary. But there are tested tips which can make connecting a loved one with mental health services both easier & more successful.
Follow the conversation and referral tips listed below to help your loved one feel comfortable connecting with mental health services and resources.
Tips to successfully connect your loved one with mental health services:
1. Explain how the mental health services can help & what they will include.
Be up front and explain what receiving mental health services (counseling, hospital services, etc.) will be like. This can dispel any misconceptions on services (such as laying on a couch in Freudian style). Share on how services can help patients successfully address negative thinking patterns and/or treat mental illness.
2. Normalize the experience of receiving mental health services.
We often carry stigma when it comes to seeking out mental health services. Share with your loved one examples of others who have benefited from mental health services. If you have personally received mental health services in the past, share your own story of how the mental health services helped you grow.>
3. Emphasize the long-term positives of overcoming the current challenge.
Share that effective mental health services can support him/her and help him/her overcome current challenges. Emphasize the personal growth that he/she can experience and emphasize that it takes courage and strength to connect with mental health services.
4. Let your loved one make a decision on what mental health services to seek out.
Allowing your loved one to make a decision on what mental health services to seek out can provide empowerment and a sense of control. If you have personal recommendations for services, provide them. But also offer options and ask which mental health provider he/she would prefer; maybe it’s a faith counselor, maybe it’s a college counselor, maybe it’s a nearby hospital, or maybe it’s a counselor with a private practice. Let your loved one choose— but ensure a connection is made.
5. Offer to go with your loved one to a mental health provider.
By offering to make a trip, you can decrease his/her anxiety on asking for help, receiving services, or talking about personal struggles. You can provide a helpful shoulder for him/her as first connections with the provider is made. This simple act can increase the probability that he/she will follow through with a mental health provider.
Use this list to locate national & local suicide prevention resources & providers!
Resources for finding immediate & long-term help for a loved one:
1) The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7 access to crisis counselors who can provide support and/or advice when someone is in crisis: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) Note: This is not a replacement for behavioral health counseling, but can help individuals get through a crisis until formal counseling is available.
2) The Crisis Textline also provides 24/7 access to crisis counselors and enables individuals to engage in crisis counseling through text. All individuals are guaranteed a response within 5 minutes: Text “4hope” to 741-741. Note: This is not a replacement for behavioral health counseling, but can help individuals get through a crisis until formal counseling is available.
3) The Ohio Dept. of Mental Health & Addiction Services maintains an Ohio Mental Health Provider map. Individuals can click on a county to see the available mental health providers in their area: http://mha.ohio.gov/Treatment/Where-to-Get-Help/Mental-Health-Provider-Search
4) The Ohio Dept of Medicaid maintains a searchable list of health providers who accept Medicaid. To search for mental health providers in your area, select your county & then under “Provider Type,” click “Clinical Counseling,” “Mental Health Clinic,” or “Psychology.” Click here for the Medicaid provider search.
If your loved one shares thoughts of suicide, help him or her connect with available resources. You can literally save someone’s life!