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How to Support Someone Who Has Suicidal Thoughts

The following blog post may be triggering to some readers. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a trained counselor and receive support. If you or a loved one are in a crisis, call 911.

 

People who have experienced trauma and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often struggle with an intense array  of distressing mental health symptoms, including feelings of guilt, depression, memory flashbacks, nightmares, and more.

 

As a result of the trauma and these very emotionally distressing symptoms, it is not uncommon for someone to think of hurting themselves or even have thoughts of suicide. In fact, 27% of people who have PTSD at some point in their lifetime have attempted suicide.

 

Some of the early warning signs of suicide risk include:

  • Feeling hopeless or empty
  • Feeling trapped or out of control
  • Withdrawal from family and/or friends
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Citing no reason to live, feeling like a burden to their loved ones
  • Increased use of drugs and/or drinking
  • Trouble sleeping

If someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, it can be nerve-wracking to begin that conversation. However, research shows that talking about suicide does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts. Other studies also show that asking a person at-risk for suicide can actually reduce suicidal ideation.

 

Here’s how you can help someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts.

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Ask Direct Questions About Their Suicidal Thoughts

Oftentimes, someone who is thinking about suicide may be hesitant to tell their friend, family member or therapist, because they are afraid of being judged or of causing the other emotional distress.

 

If you believe someone is having suicidal thoughts, ask direct questions, like “Are you thinking about suicide?” and “How can I help?” in an unbiased manner, and actively listen to their answers. This shows them you are open to having an honest conversation with no judgement, which can help alleviate their worries.

 

It also makes it easier for them to feel more comfortable coming to you about their struggles in the future, should they need your help. Ask them directly what you can do to best support them, and do not commit to anything you aren’t willing or able to do.

Keep Them Safe From Their Suicide Plan

Once you determine the person is indeed having suicidal thoughts, you can begin to figure out how much action is needed to keep them safe. Suicidal ideation, or thinking about suicide, is not uncommon in people who have trauma. In a 2004 study of 94 people with PTSD, 38.3% reported experiencing suicidal ideation.

 

However, suicidal intent or planning is an extremely serious matter that requires more direct action. Have they attempted suicide before speaking with you? Do they have a detailed suicide plan or have an idea of how they would do it? What level of access do they have to their plan? Determining these factors can help you assess the severity of danger the person is in and what next steps to take.

 

If they have a strategic plan as to how they would kill themselves, this puts them at a higher risk of actually following through with their method. In this case, you may need to contact a trained counselor at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911 for additional support.

Help Them Find Mental Health Support

Whether through a therapist or a trauma recovery support group, having the right mental health support is crucial, especially for people with trauma and/or PTSD.

 

You and the person at risk can also develop a safety plan if they experience severe suicidal thoughts in the future. This plan can include what the individual can do in this situation and who to contact. By having a set plan in place, you are decreasing the risk of suicide.

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Follow Up to See How They’re Doing

After your initial conversation about suicide with an at-risk person, it’s important to continuously show up and support them. Whether that’s sending a heartfelt text to see how they are doing or scheduling hang outs where you both can spend quality time together, anything you do to remind them you are here for them and care about their well-being can make a huge positive impact.

 

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, there is hope. Having honest, unbiased conversations about suicide is the first step in finding relief during recovery. For more information on suicide prevention, take a look at National Suicide Prevention Hotline. To speak with a trained counselor, please call 1-800-273-8255.

 

Let the Mira app support you through your trauma recovery. With grounding exercises, trigger tracking tools, 24/7 access to emergency hotlines and more, you can manage your trauma symptoms and find relief. For more trauma and PTSD resources, check out our blog!

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