September is Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month.
When a friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor isn’t acting like themselves or seems down, it can be daunting to bring it up to them. We want to help and offer support, but how? With this step-by-step guide inspired by our friends at Seize the Awkward, we can all be there for our loved ones and work to prevent suicide in our community through deep, meaningful connection.
Learn the Signs
There is no “one-size-fits-all" symptom list that tells you when a loved one is struggling. Some signs may include:
- Excessive worry
- Trouble concentrating
- Unable to regulate emotions
- Talking about feelings of loneliness or despair
- Erratic or out-of-character behavior
- Struggling to care for themselves
- Not taking prescribed medications
- Talking/ thinking about harm towards others or suicide
- Substance misuse affecting their daily life
Tips for Starting the Conversation
When we reach out to friends, family members, or neighbors that are struggling, we can be the hand that pulls them back into the light. If you’ve noticed your loved one hasn’t seemed like themselves recently, talk to them about it. Often, people bottle up their feelings and can feel as though they have no one to talk to. Position yourself as a trusted person in their life who they can come to when life gets hard.
A trusted person is someone who:
- Won't judge.
- Won't compare someone's pain to their own or others’ pain.
- Isn’t going to "freak out" when someone confides in them that they have had thoughts of suicide.
- Won't tell them to "suck it up."
- Gives hope.
When it comes to talking with someone who may be struggling with their mental health, it doesn’t matter how you ask; all that matters is that you do. Try something like:
- I’ve noticed you’ve been down lately. What’s going on?
- Seems like you haven’t been yourself lately. What’s up?
- I know you’re going through some stuff; I’m here for you.
- I’m thinking of you. How have you been?
Beginning the conversation doesn’t mean you have to dive straight into talking about mental health struggles or have an intense heart-to-heart. Meet your friend where they are at. A simple coffee date, a walk in the park, or a drive around town can be a neutral place to help them open up.
Tips for Having the Conversation
Don’t get caught up about finding the perfect words to say – just be there and let them know they have your support.
Once you have started the conversation:
- Listen non-judgmentally. Let them take the lead and share at their own pace.
- Ask open-ended questions rather than questions that could be answered with a “yes” or “no”.
- Make yourself available. Be the trusted person they can rely on.
- Encourage them to get connected with a mental health professional.
Often, just being there is enough. When someone feels isolated, a friendly listening ear helps them feel less alone.
After the Conversation
After the initial conversation, continue to check in with them and let them know you care and that you are there for them. This support can be the spark they need to seek professional help.
After the conversation, remember to take care of yourself. Practicing self-care helps to make sure you can continue to support your loved one. Check out our blog on the Eight Dimensions of Wellness to find ideas for all areas of self-care.
This Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month, use these steps to reach out to someone you think might be struggling.