Content Warning: This post discusses the prevention of death by suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling, please know that there is help available. People can call, text 988 or chat here in the U.S. For TTY (teletypewriter) Users: Use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988. Línea de Prevención del Suicidio y Crisis 1-888-628-9454
TL; DR: There are steps that all of us can take to raise awareness around suicide, to help someone who is struggling, and to intervene when there is a risk of suicide.
Read on below to learn more about the different levels of prevention.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. As the first week ends, Those Nerdy Girls want to talk more about how we can prevent suicide in our families, communities and populations.
Suicide is a public health issue. It is one of the top 15 causes of death across the globe, a leading cause of death among young adults, and increasing among young people ages 15-24. With increasing awareness and interventions, we can all do our part to help prevent deaths by suicide.* We can attend to three levels of prevention to guide our efforts.
🪂Action in a crisis: the most immediate impact for a person who is at-risk, but has not yet tried to hurt themselves.
1) Know the major risk factors: There are many, but some include mental health conditions like depression, chronic pain or illness, substance use, family history of death by suicide, and having access to weapons or medications/substances that could be used for self-harm.
2) Talk to them and listen to their story. Let them know that you are there for them and that while you may not be able to understand their experience, you are there to support them. Do not debate or question how they feel. Validate their experience.
3) Ask questions about whether they are thinking about suicide. Do not be afraid to ask questions directly. This does not increase the risk of suicide. The Columbia LightHouse Project has resources for how to ask these questions in many settings. Some examples of questions might be: 1) How are you coping with what is happening in your life? 2) Have you ever wished you would go to sleep and not wake up? 3) Have you ever thought about suicide before or tried to end your life or harm yourself before? 4) Have you ever tried to end your life? 4) Do you have a plan for ending your life? (Sample questions from the Mayo Clinic and Columbia Lighthouse Project)
4) If they answer yes, tell them about 988 or their state’s warmline. For TTY (teletypewriter) Users: Use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988. Línea de Prevención del Suicidio y Crisis 1-888-628-9454 If you are outside of the U.S., know what the local resources are and encourage professional help.
5) If you are with the person in distress, you can call 988 or your local resources to see how best to help them.
Strategies for prevention of death by suicide with someone who has recently tried to end their life.
How can we help protect them from future self-harm?
1) Have open and honest conversations about what did/did not happen. The person may or may not be ready to talk about it. Know that they also may be confused as to why they are in the hospital if they have been taken there. Remind the person that there is no shame or stigma in going to the hospital for medically needed care.
2) Help them find a therapist, a support group, or local chapters of organizations like National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) who have experience supporting people after an attempt. If they would like to talk to someone about medication, encourage them to consider talking to a primary care or psychiatric clinician about it to see how it might help.
3) Offer help with daily activities. Things can be overwhelming, especially if there are medical bills or other costs after a hospitalization. Helping with groceries or simple tasks can help decrease stress for the person who is recovering.
4) Help the person make a safety plan to stay safe and to have people they can reach out to if they need extra help.
✋Lastly, let’s talk about prevention at the population level, looking upstream to the root causes.
At the community level, this can include:: campaigns that destigmatize mental health issues, community action for mental health, investing in policies that support mental wellness, support for communities at-risk including indigenous communities, elders, and LGBTQIA2S+, and school programs that focus on anti-bullying and social/emotional development.
At the individual level, you can:
➡️ Be open about your own mental health status with your loved ones, colleagues, neighbors
➡️ Share support in person or on social media
➡️ Get trained as a 9-8-8 responder with the Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
➡️ Volunteer at your local school or senior center
➡️ Write to your local, state and national leaders and legislators about
*️⃣ Increasing access to trauma-informed mental health care
*️⃣ Funding substance use disorder treatment programs
*️⃣ Creating local crisis response teams to be dispatched during mental health crises
*️⃣ Legislation to support and heal marginalized communities
*️⃣ Learning about intergenerational and historical trauma (resources below)
*️⃣ Joining the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging teams at your place of work or asking that your employer create one.
These action items are just a start.
If you have additional ideas, please share in the comments. You all are resources to us and your fellow readers.
Stay safe. Stay well.
Those Nerdy Girls
*We avoid the use of the word “commit” as it implies criminal behavior. The phrase death by suicide is de-stigmatizing language.
Learn more here:
Other phone lines and internet support: