Perhaps part of why suicide is such a heavy topic is that so many of us have been affected by it in some way. In 2017, my close friend experienced a heartbreaking tragedy when his brother died by suicide. In addition to feeling the weight of the loss being experienced by my friend and his family, I distinctly remember this devastating event being part of what inspired me to pursue counseling as a career. I knew that if there was even a small role that I could play in helping prevent suicide, I wanted to do my part.
Interestingly enough, one of the things I learned early on during my counseling program is that it does not take a professional counselor to play a vital role in suicide prevention. And that is good news! In fact, anyone can learn how to provide potentially life-saving assistance to someone who is at risk for suicide.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember if you suspect that someone close to you may be suicidal is this: ask the person directly if they are thinking about suicide. This might seem counterintuitive because there is a tendency to think that bringing up this touchy subject might make things worse. Research studies have shown otherwise. In fact, the literature has consistently demonstrated that giving people the opportunity to talk about their suicidal thoughts out loud is helpful, not harmful.
By that same token, one important thing to remember NOT to do is to ask a question like this: “You’re not thinking about suicide, are you?” This is a leading question because it may encourage the suicidal person to respond with something like, “No, of course not.” Instead, keep your question open-ended by asking something along the lines of “Have you been thinking about suicide?” or “Have you had thoughts about killing yourself?” That simple inquiry is more likely to invite transparency in the response.
If you are interested in learning more about training in terms of suicide prevention, one framework that I have personally found helpful is the QPR Institute. QPR is an acronym that stands for Question, Persuade, and Refer.
Another valuable and widely used suicide prevention resource is the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The number to contact is now just 3 digits (988). Please visit the website in the link above for more information (ex: specific warning signs to look for) as well as other resources.
If you or someone you care about is currently experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call 988 to access the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
Ryan Woods, LPC Associate
My goal as a counselor is to help adults, adolescents, and children by providing a space to be heard, process life’s challenges, and develop the necessary skills to thrive mentally, physically, and spiritually. My overall approach to therapy involves cognitive behavioral methods (exploring one’s thoughts and beliefs relative to emotions and behaviors), as well as narrative therapy (engaging personal stories that view people as separate from their problems). I view counseling as a collaborative effort in helping clients to recognize strengths, identify needs, understand conflicts, discover new options, set personal development goals, and make informed choices.