The hardest question you’ll ever ask
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month
By Mark Kaufman • JFCS Counselor
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds. That is a scary statistic, but for some of us – actually for a lot of us – it is much more personal.
Many of us have friends and family members who have died by suicide, and this month is an opportunity to unite in remembering them together. It is also a month to really look at what we can do to address suicide in general, and to keep the people we love safe.
If someone you know is making comments like “things would be easier if I just wasn’t here,” or “I just don’t know how I can go on anymore,” these may be clues or “invitations” (https://www.livingworks.net/safetalk) to talk about having suicidal thoughts.
Other invitations or signs include (http://www.devereux.org):
- Increase in substance use
- Increased mood swings
- Increased talking, writing or other forms of expression about death
- Giving away things
- Settling affairs
- Or a sudden improvement in mood following a deep depression
Because the fear of losing someone to suicide is so hard, it is very easy for our brains to avoid thinking about the possibility that a loved one is suicidal. On the other hand, the fear may be so hard we cannot stop thinking about it. Either scenario can make it extremely difficult to ask someone if they are in danger of dying by suicide. Many people fear that asking about suicidal thinking might give someone the idea; many are too afraid of what the answer might be.
I will start with this – the evidence does not support the fear that asking about suicidal thinking will plant the idea of suicide. It is much more important to provide interventions, such as emergency services and the restriction of access to dangerous items like guns and pills. If you don’t know, you can’t act. Action saves lives.
One way you can approach the subject is to say something like, “I noticed you’ve been really giving away a lot of your things, and suddenly you seem less depressed. Sometimes when people are doing things like this it is a sign they are thinking about suicide. Are you thinking about killing yourself?” This is not a vague question; it does not rely on euphemisms, and it invites conversation. It also communicates concern and empathy.
All of these factors are critically important. If you do not feel like you are ready to do this, but you suspect someone you love is thinking about suicide, please make use of your county mobile crisis team (In Hennepin County: Adults: COPE – 612-596-1223; Children: Child Crisis – 612-348-2233, in Ramsey county: Adults: 651-266-7900, Children’s: 651-266-7878.), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), or text MN to 741 741.
Not everyone is ready to ask this important question, but it is the first step to getting the help needed. With this conversation started, you can help your loved one connect with resources, limit access to ways they might kill themselves (gun removal, lock up medications, hospitalization, etc.), and start the path towards safety.
Consider becoming more comfortable with asking this important question. You can also participate in trainings with organizations working to decrease suicides: