Ask and Listen: It can be scary to do, but it’s important not to hold back asking the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” to someone in crisis. It’s equally important to ask this in a supportive, non-judgmental, and unbiased way, in order to encourage someone to open up and establish a dialogue with you. Do not ever promise to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret. Listen to their answers, and don’t minimize and/or invalidate their feelings. Talk about their feelings and their reasons, as opposed to telling them your thoughts and feelings. Studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts. In fact, studies suggest the opposite: findings suggest that acknowledging and talking about suicide helps to reduce suicidal ideation.
Keep them Safe: Find out what you can to establish immediate safety. Ask whether they have already had an attempt, if they have a specific plan in place, and determine external danger to being able to execute that plan (for examples, if there are medications and/or weapons they can easily access). The more steps and pieces of a plan that are in place, the higher their severity of risk and their capability to enact their plan might be. Extra steps (like calling the authorities or driving them to an emergency department) might be necessary. A Suicide Help Line is always an important resource during these moments if you aren’t entirely sure what to do next. The myth “If someone really wants to commit suicdie, they’ll find a way to do it” often does not hold true if appropriate safety measures are put into place.
Be Present: This could mean being physically present for someone, speaking with them on the phone, or any other way that shows support for the person at risk. It’s important to be able to follow through with the ways in which you say you’ll be able to support the person – do not commit to anything you are not willing or able to accomplish. If you are unable to be physically present with someone with thoughts of suicide, talk with them to develop some ideas for others who might be able to help as well (again, only others who are willing, able, and appropriate to be there). Increasing connection to others and limiting isolation (both in the short and long-term) has shown to be a protective factor against suicide.