Suicide is a major health concern in the United States that impacts thousands of young people, their families and communities each year. Childhood, especially the teen years, can be a stressful time. They are filled with many changes including body changes, changes in thoughts, and changes in feelings. Strong feelings of stress, confusion, fear, doubt and pressure to succeed may influence youths’ problem-solving and decision-making abilities.
For some youth, these changes can be very unsettling when combined with other events such as changes in family or friendships, or difficulties in school. These problems may seem insurmountable to overcome and, for some young people, suicide may seem like a solution.
Suicide is preventable. By recognizing the warning signs, listening, talking and taking action, you could save a life. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has five evidence-informed action steps for communicating with someone who may be suicidal:
Asking the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” communicates that you are open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental, supportive way. Asking in this direct manner can open the door for effective dialogue and allow everyone to see what steps need to be taken. Another piece of the “Ask” step is to listen. Listening to a person’s reasons for being in pain, as well as reasons they want to stay alive, are both incredibly important. Help them focus on their reasons for living and avoid trying to impose your reasons for them to stay alive.
- Keep Them Safe
It is important to find out a few things to establish immediate safety. Have they already done anything to try to harm themselves before talking to you? Do they have a detailed plan for how they would kill themselves? What sort of access do they have to their planned method? Knowing the answers to these questions can tell you a lot about the severity of danger this person is in. For example, if they have immediate access to a firearm or medications, they may be at higher risk for enacting their plan, and emergency steps might be necessary (calling 911 or taking them to an emergency room).
- Be There
Being there for someone with thoughts of suicide is lifesaving. Increasing someone’s connectedness to others and limiting their isolation is shown to be a protective factor against suicide. This could mean being physically present for someone, speaking with them on the phone, finding others who can help, or any other way that shows support.
- Help Them Connect
Helping someone with suicidal thoughts connect with ongoing treatment, supports and resources can help them establish a safety net for those moments when they are in a crisis. One way to help them connect is to develop a safety plan. This can include ways for them to identify when or if they start to experience thoughts of suicide, and what to do in those crisis moments. This plan can also include a list of individuals to contact when a crisis occurs, contact for a mental health professional, and resources in the community.
- Follow Up
After you have connected them with the immediate support systems they need, make sure to follow up with them to see how they are doing. Leave a message, send a text, or give them a call to check in. This type of contact and support can increase their feelings of connectedness and reduce their risk for suicide.
Physical and mental health are critical for all young people, and that is why Boys & Girls Clubs have also partnered with organizations like the Crisis Text Line and Mental Health First Aid – so that all young people, and the caring mentors at our Clubs that guide them, have access to resources that can help them during critical times.