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Every year, millions of people experience thoughts of suicide. Suicidal thoughts, much like mental health conditions, can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. Too often the feelings of shame and stigma prevent suicide loss survivors and individuals with suicidal thoughts from talking openly.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month—a reminder for us to take action to prevent suicide and provide support. With the right resources and intervention, individuals can find help or learn how to provide support to others, potentially saving lives. A strong social support system improves overall mental health outcomes and the ability to bounce back from stressful situations.
There are simple things that every person can say or do to help the people in their life who are struggling to get through the tough times.
SUPPORTING OTHERS & HOW TO BE HELPFUL:
Practice active listening. Active listening is different than just hearing what a person has to say. A good active listener puts everything aside and gives their complete attention to the person who is talking; asks open-ended questions to get more details about the topic that is being discussed (ex. “And how did that make you feel?”); and takes moments throughout the conversation to summarize what they’ve been told and make sure they are understanding clearly.
Don’t compare. If a friend or loved-one is going through a tough situation and they come to you for support, you might feel tempted to tell them about something that happened to you and how you were able to get through it. It’s okay to share about similar experiences, but be careful not to compare because it can make someone feel like their pain isn’t valid.
Ask what you can do. It can be tempting to assume what would be helpful to someone who is struggling, but it’s always better to ask them what they need from you. If you ask and get a response like, “nothing, I’m ne,” offer up a few suggestions for things you would be willing to do (without being pushy).
Keep your word. If you have offered your support to someone and told them you would do something, keep your word. When a person is struggling, the last thing they need is to feel abandoned by someone else. If you absolutely can’t honor your promise, make a sincere apology and find another time that you can do what you said you would.
Don’t judge. To be truly supportive of someone, you need to put your personal opinions and biases aside. They may be struggling because of a mistake that they made, or you may think that they are overreacting, but you will never know what it is truly like to be that person in this moment, and criticism is not helpful to their recovery.
Offer to join them. When someone is going through a time of sadness or uncertainty, their emotions can take over and leave them feeling paralyzed and unable to take care of life’s obligations. Offering to go with someone to help them take care of responsibilities like walking the dog, going to the grocery store, or attending doctor appointments can help them feel a sense of accomplishment and lift their spirits.
If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately. Trained crisis counselors are also available 24/7 by texting "MHA" to 741-741.