Suicide: When and How to Help
If you suspect a friend or family member is thinking about suicide, get involved as soon as possible.
“A person can commit suicide in a matter of minutes,” says Ramona Osburn, F.A.C.H.E., senior vice president of Behavioral Health at Texas Health Resources. “If you notice that anything is off, get help immediately. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, someone who is contemplating suicide may:
- Abuse alcohol and drugs
- Act reckless and engage in risky behavior
- Avoid activities and people they love
- Display dramatic and erratic changes in mood
- Sleep all of the time or not at all
- Talk about death or threaten to hurt him or herself
- Write about suicide and focus on revenge
However, not all warning signs look dark. On some occasions, people who are suicidal may display overwhelming calm and happiness after making the decision to end life.
“If someone has depression, whether mild or clinical, and suddenly the depression lifts and a family member sees them happier — that is a huge warning sign for suicide,” Osburn says. “It usually means someone has made peace with the decision.”
How You Can Help
If you notice that someone close to you is exhibiting any suicidal behaviors, begin by talking face to face. Calmly express your concern and listen to the person describe situations that may be causing the suicidal feelings.
Do your best to offer comfort with words of encouragement, and don’t be afraid to talk directly about suicide. Ask the person if he or she is seriously considering the option and when and how they plan to take action. If your friend or loved one has a detailed plan, the risk of suicide is high.
In this case, DO NOT:
- Argue about the situation
- Lecture the person who is suicidal
- React with shock
Instead, call 9-1-1 or a crisis line for professional support and stay in close contact with your friend throughout the treatment process. Rides to doctors’ appointments, reminders to take medications and regular phone calls are strong reminders that you are there to offer support.
“Many people are afraid of angering a suicidal person by intervening,” Osburn says. “But it’s difficult for them to get mad if they are dead. It’s better to sound the warning bell and show that you care.”
Texas Health offers Behavioral Health services at several locations. To learn more, visit TexasHealth.org.
For more information on suicide prevention and resources to help you talk to a friend, visit afsp.org.
Physicians on the medical staff practice independently and are not employees or agents of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.