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Home > Medical Services > Behavioral Services > Educational Resources > How You Can Help Prevent Suicide
By Dr. Scott Eilers, PsyD, LP
Suicide is an incredibly important and incredibly difficult topic. We lose nearly a million people globally to suicide each year, and most of us feel completely powerless to do anything about it. And, while it can seem like there’s nothing you can do to help, anyone can be an ally in the war against suicide. You just need to understand a few important concepts.
First and most importantly, always take conversations about suicide seriously. Never assume a person is “making a cry for help” or “just trying to get attention.” The consequences of being wrong can be catastrophic. Also, try to avoid being judgmental or dismissive. Listening is generally more important than talking in these situations. If someone is confiding in you about their deepest feelings, they probably have a lot to say as they’ve likely been holding these feelings in for weeks, months or even years.
It’s also important to know what resources are available to a person in crisis, and there are several. Your Life Iowa offers crisis services via phone at 855-581-8111, text at 855-895-8398 and online chat at https://yourlifeiowa.org. Suicidal ideation isn’t something that anyone should have to deal with alone. Ultimately, it also isn’t something that should be handled without professional support. Treat it like any other potentially life-threatening medical condition in this regard.
Additionally, you should know what suicidal ideation looks and sounds like, as it isn’t always as obvious as you might think. Listen for indicators of hopelessness and despair, such as “I don’t know how much longer I can keep going like this” or “I wish this could all just be over.” Furthermore, look for actions like giving away prized possessions, a sudden lack of self-care and hygiene, a dramatic change in mood, or a preoccupation with death and dying.
Lastly, try to avoid blame. This isn’t anyone’s fault. Nobody chooses or wants to be suicidal.
There is nothing you can say that will remove feelings of hopelessness and despair and thoughts of suicide, so don’t put pressure on yourself to do so. Instead, focus on statements that emphasize support, acknowledgement, validation, understanding and empathy. Avoid statements that are judgmental, minimizing, overly solution-focused or critical. It’s much harder to want to die when you feel a strong connection to the world and some of the things in it, including other people. Below are some examples of helpful and unhelpful statements:
If you personally are experiencing suicidal urges, the most important steps are to reach out to as many safe and supportive people as possible, to seek professional help, and to remember that no emotion, thought or impulse will last forever. Thoughts and feelings have a life span, and when we leave them alone, that lifespan is quite short. Real-time brain imaging shows that the average duration of a thought is about 10 seconds, and the average duration of an emotion is about 90 seconds. When thoughts and feelings seem to last longer, it’s because something is triggering us to experience them repeatedly, and that something may be internal or external.
Scott Eilers,PsyD, LP
Whatever it is, it won’t last forever. Eventually, the tears will stop, the numbness will fade. And, there are millions of people like me who want to know about it and help you with it, so please tell us.
For mental health crisis management 24 hours/day, seven days/week, call Mercy's Access Line at (319) 398-6476.Or, call the Community Crisis Line at Foundation 2 at (319) 362-2174 or (800) 332-4224.