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What to do When a Patient or Loved One is Suicidal

What to do When a Patient or Loved One is Suicidal

What to do When a Patient or Loved One is Suicidal

September 27 2022

4 Actionable Things You Can Do to Help Someone Who May be Suicidal 

If your loved one is in immediate danger of self-harm, dial 911. 

If you or someone you love needs to speak with someone, help is available by dialing 988. (Veterans can press “1” for the Veterans Crisis Line)

 

It can be very upsetting to hear a patient or someone you love say that things are bleak and they are considering suicide or that they wish they would die. In some cases, your loved one or patient may not even say anything about it at all. 

 

Knowing the signs of someone who is suicidal or when to take suicidal statements seriously as well as knowing what to do can literally save a life. 

 

While we may be afraid that our interventions may make the situation worse, taking action is always the best choice. 

 

Here are some warning signs and what you should do if a patient or loved one is suicidal.

 

1 | Ask Questions

The first step in helping someone who might be suicidal is to find out whether or not they are in danger of acting on those suicidal feelings. Be sensitive, but ask direct questions such as:

  • How are you coping with what has been happening?
  • Do you ever feel like just giving up?
  • Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  • Are you thinking about dying?
  • Are you thinking about suicide? Or have you ever thought about it or tried to harm yourself before?

 

Remember, asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push someone into doing something self-destructive. In fact, offering them an opportunity to speak about their feelings may reduce the risk of acting on any suicidal thoughts they may be experiencing. 

 

2 | Know the Warning Signs

  • The person is talking about suicide (e.g. “I wish I were dead” or “I’m going to kill myself”)
  • Obtaining the means to take their life, such as stocking up on pills
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be isolated
  • Having severe mood swings
  • Is preoccupied with death, dying, or violence
  • Feels trapped or hopeless
  • Increases their use of drugs or alcohol
  • Changes their normal routine, including sleeping and eating patterns
  • Does risky or destructive things, like driving recklessly
  • Gives away belongings or gets affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing so
  • Says goodbye to people as if they will never see them again
  • Develops a personality change or becomes severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing one of the above warning signs

 

3 | When Immediate Help is Needed

If someone has attempted suicide:

  • Don’t leave them alone
  • Call 911 right away, or take them to the nearest emergency room
  • Find out if the person is under the influence or if they may have taken drugs to overdose
  • If you are a professional caregiver, tell a family member or family caregiver right away 

 

If a loved one or patient is acting in a way that makes you think they might attempt suicide, don’t try to handle the situation on your own. Instead:

  • Get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible; they may need to be hospitalized and put under suicide watch
  • Encourage the person to contact the national suicide hotline number by calling or texting 988 (Veterans can press “1” for the Veterans Crisis Line)

 

4 | Offer Support

If a patient or loved one is thinking about suicide, professional help is needed even if they are not in immediate danger. Be sure to also offer support by:

  • Encouraging the person to contact the national suicide hotline number by calling or texting 988 (Veterans can press “1” for the Veterans Crisis Line)
  • Encouraging the person to seek treatment or participate in ongoing treatment
  • Offering help to get support or assistance
  • Encouraging them to communicate with you about their feelings and creating a safe space for them to talk with no judgment
  • Being respectful of and acknowledge their feelings; don’t express shock
  • Don’t be patronizing or judgmental
  • Never promise to keep their suicidal feelings a secret
  • Offering reassurance that things can get better
  • Encouraging the person to avoid alcohol and drugs
  • Removing potentially dangerous items from their home, if possible

 

Additional Helpful Information: Suicide in the Elderly 

Red flags for seniors can be a little different. As we age, risk factors for suicidal ideation can increase. Some red flags include:

  • Depression
  • Major changes in social roles
  • Substance abuse
  • Being divorced or widowed
  • Recent death of a loved one
  • Social isolation
  • Feelings of loss of independence or purpose
  • Medical conditions that significantly limit functioning or life expectancy

 

Final Thoughts

It is important to take all signs of suicidal behavior seriously. Never downplay or ignore the situation. Also, don’t worry that you are overreacting or that you may strain your relationship with the person who is suicidal. When someone’s life is at stake, it is always important to act! 

 

Finally, it is important to understand that you are not responsible for preventing someone from taking their own life. However, your intervention can help that person see that there are other options available and to get treatment. 

 

If your loved one is in immediate danger of self-harm, dial 911. 

If you or someone you love needs to speak with someone, help is available by dialing 988. (Veterans can press “1” for the Veterans Crisis Line)

 

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