On World News Tonight’s August 12th, 2014 broadcast, in a conversation with medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, it was reported that calls to suicide prevention numbers have shot up substantially since the report of Robin Williams’ suicide. The anchor stated that perhaps Robin’s “greatest gift” is raising awareness so that people who are depressed or suicidal are now asking for help. I would say it is an unintended blessing. Life is the greatest gift.
Addressing suicide is never easy. If you could increase your skills and confidence in suicide prevention, do you think you would be more likely to get involved and save a life from suicide? Here are some practical steps that I have been teaching educators this year as schools have come back into session.
Ask the Question
And the question is, “Are you thinking about committing suicide?” Depending on the developmental level of the person, it may be more appropriate to ask, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It is most helpful to address suicide directly, and this can be the most difficult part. But if someone seems depressed, withdrawn, has experienced significant loss or a perceived insurmountable challenge, you might just save that person’s life. If the answer is no, that’s great. If it’s yes, or something other than a definite no, you have the opening you need to start directing that person to life-saving help.
Use the CPR of suicide prevention
The presence of one or more of these risk factors increases the risk of suicide.
If a person indicates thoughts of suicide, ask, “Do you have a plan to kill yourself?” The presence of a plan increases risk of a completed suicide. The more detailed the plan, the higher the risk as well. Details to look for are the means of death, the place and time intended for the suicide, use of measures to avoid being discovered or stopped, and belief that the plan would work, not just in taking that person’s life, but also in ending the pain he or she currently feels.
Past thoughts or attempts in a person’s lifetime increase the risk of a completed suicide. This includes thoughts of suicide, plans for suicide, rehearsing a plan, aborted or thwarted attempts, and unsuccessful attempts (the plan was carried out but death did not occur). If previous plans or attempts have gone unreported, the risk also increases because no treatment or planning has occurred to reduce suicide risk.
Denying access and opportunity when thoughts of suicide are present is one of the most effective ways to prevent suicide. Restricting means and opportunity reduces the lethality of desperate or spontaneous attempts. A support person is more likely to discover, interrupt, and get immediate medical help if needed. For a person who is ambivalent about dying, reducing access to resources will prevent an attempt and allow effective helping to occur.
If you know when suicidal thoughts or plans are present in someone’s life, and you have an idea of a person’s level of suicide risk, you will be able to support a friend or loved one who desperately needs your help. When your loved one knows you truly care, you will be trusted to provide help they otherwise would not seek out for themselves. And that is the most effective way to prevent suicide.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline if you need help.
To learn more about helping people who are vulnerable to suicide, download the A Friend Asks app from the Jason Foundation.