September marks National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — here are five ways you can help prevent these tragedies.
Suicidal thoughts can occur for anyone, especially in stressful situations (and working in legal certainly qualifies as stressful), or for those who are struggling with their bodily or mental health. You yourself might be fighting these thoughts, or it could be a friend, family member, partner or colleague.
Bethany Cook, PsyD
As society becomes more comfortable with conversations around mental health at home and at work, knowing the signs that someone is suicidal and being proactive and learning the causes can truly save a life. Here are ways actively prevent suicide.
One of the reasons individuals take their own life is because they feel no one understands their struggles, they feel alone in the world and they’ve lost hope that their life can change for the better. If someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, make extra efforts to reach out and connect with this individual. A suicide contract can be lifesaving in this type of situation by letting the other person know that you can handle their big feelings and want them to reach out to you to talk before acting on a thought or impulse.
2. Zero Tolerance for Bullying
Unfortunately, most individuals’ first bully is a family member. I’ve heard many parents say things like “It’s a tough world so I’m preparing them for it.” This approach has been proven harmful and not effective. Whether you’re advocating for yourself or your child, it’s important to expect a zero-tolerance policy from work or school. Bullying never goes away — you have to either remove yourself (or child) from it or the institution itself must enforce protection against this type of behavior. Just because companies and schools still allow bullish behavior in their culture doesn’t mean it’s OK.
3. Proactive Advocate
Even if you don’t know someone who is suicidal, do research on the topic. Volunteer for a suicide hotline. Get comfortable talking about the topic of death with people who have never felt suicidal. (Almost everyone thinks about their own death in some way during their life, so discussing that with someone can be a good way to get used to the concept.) Learn to notice the signs of someone who is actively thinking about self-harm, and check-in with them before they come to you and confirm your suspicions.
4. Normalize Mental Health Care
At one point or another, every single person lives through a traumatic experience and/or must work through difficult periods in their lives. Access to mental health services can help them process them in ways that benefit their emotional well-being. So many people are aware of the importance of mental health but don’t seek assistance due to the stigma associated with it. The more individuals who openly talk about their struggles help those struggling in silence feel safe enough to seek help.
5. Know the Five Action Steps to Take
If someone has come to you emotionally distressed and you fear for their safety take the following steps:
Ask: Asking the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” doesn’t make someone suicidal; quite the contrary — it lets this person know you’re open to talking about a difficult topic in a nonjudgmental and supportive way.
Be there: This can look like anything from going with them to the emergency room (ER) for an evaluation or sending them check-in texts every hour for a few days. This is about asking them what would be helpful and doing what you can to support them.
Keep them safe: Ask the person if they have a plan to harm themself and remove any items that they would (or could) use. Stay with them if you can or call someone who could go over and physically be present. The goal is to reduce access until they’ve had a chance to be evaluated.
Help them connect: Get in touch with a person certified to evaluate the individual; call a suicide hotline, go to the ER or find a mental health facility. Also ask the individual who their support system is and contact them. You want to connect them to individuals who will be able to provide continued support.
Follow-up: Once your initial contact with someone feeling suicidal is over, it’s important to make sure you follow-up with them. Give them a call or send a text or email. Let them know you’re thinking about them and want to see how they are doing.
While it can be difficult to address mental health with colleagues or even your family and friends, the Mental Health First Aid Certification Program can help. ALA is once offering you the chance to participate in this interactive program. Act fast — the fall dates are already filling up. Register today.
About the Author
Bethany Cook, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist, heath service psychologist, adjunct profession and board-certified music therapist.