10 Things You Can Do if Your Loved One is Experiencing Suicidal Ideation

Suicidal ideation is a preoccupation with suicide, which may lead to an attempted or completed suicide. Intervention with someone having these thoughts is essential and life-saving. Loved ones must understand the signs and what to do to offer help and show that person that there are other options.

Suicide is a terrible, frightening thing. When someone you love feels so hopeless that they are considering suicide, it can make you feel helpless and uncertain. It’s not easy to know what to do.

You may be worried about saying anything for fear you’ll do something wrong and make it worse.

The first thing you need to do is better understand suicidal ideation. Know what the warning signs are and then learn what you can do to help. Reaching out is always better than ignoring it.

By showing you care, and taking steps to offer help, you could be saving a life.

What Is Suicidal Ideation?

Suicidal ideation is a diagnosis that refers to having serious, regular thoughts about suicide. There are many potential causes, including mental illness and stressful life events. Often there is no clear cause, but many factors may lead someone to become suicidal.

Some of the signs that a person has become preoccupied with thoughts of suicide include:

  • Talking about suicide
  • Talking about feeling trapped or without options
  • Finding the means to commit suicide
  • Becoming socially withdrawn and isolated from family and friends
  • Saying goodbyes and giving away possessions
  • Engaging in increasingly impulsive or self-destructive behaviors
  • Acting calm or at peace after a period of significant distress

There are obvious complications of this suicidal ideation, most seriously the risk of a completed suicide. Even when someone does not go through with suicide, the emotional and mental toll of feeling this way can be severe and lasting. If someone you care about is contemplating suicide, it is essential to take steps to help them.

1. Talk About It.

This is an uncomfortable conversation to have, but if you suspect someone is suicidal, ask them about it. Be direct and use difficult words, like suicide. Ask them if they are thinking about killing themselves. Many people hesitate to take this step because they believe talking about it can act as a push.

Researchers have found that discussing suicide does not increase suicide. It does not encourage someone to go through with it or even put the idea in their head. What talking about suicide does that is so important is to let the person know that someone cares. It tells them that someone has noticed their struggle.

2. Take Them Seriously.

A persistent myth about suicide is that someone who talks about it won’t ever follow through. This is a dangerous myth. If your loved one talks about suicide or shows other signs of suicidal ideation, take it very seriously. Don’t diminish their pain or tell them to cheer up. Empathize, listen, and realize that they may actually attempt suicide.

3. Create a Crisis Plan.

Suicidal ideation is not always a crisis. It does not always lead to a suicide attempt. However, it may become a crisis situation, so be prepared. Work on it together if you can, but if your loved one won’t participate, you should still make a plan in case the threat of suicide becomes immediate.

A crisis plan includes several elements:

  • Access to an immediate source of help, like a suicide hotline
  • A plan for ensuring your loved one is not left alone, such as someone else you can call to be there
  • Distractions that help keep your loved one’s thoughts of suicide at bay
  • Contact information for your loved one’s doctor or therapist

In the event of a crisis, be willing and ready to call 911. There is no such thing as overreacting if you think someone might take their own life.

4. Ask Questions and Remain Calm.

When talking about suicide with a loved one, it’s important to listen. Ask questions and listen without judgment. Just this simple act is powerful because it allows them to be heard. It shows them someone cares about them.

Ask questions about how they are coping, if they feel hopeless, if they are thinking about suicide, and even if they have access to the means to commit suicide. Be specific and don’t be afraid to talk about what makes you both uncomfortable. Remain calm while talking and listening. Your loved one needs someone who is patient and nonjudgmental and who will not panic.

5. Remove Any Means for Committing Suicide.

An important sign of suicidal ideation is gathering the means to take one’s life. While talking about suicide and offering help are essential, the practical step of getting these things out of reach is an immediate step you can take. Remove drugs, alcohol, and guns from the home.

6. Provide an Immediate Resource for Help.

Someone deep in their thoughts about suicide may not know where to turn. You can only do so much by listening. They may need someone trained in suicide prevention. Provide a resource they can use immediately, such as a suicide prevention hotline or online resources for suicide. This will give some instant relief. From there you can make a plan together to get more dedicated and long-term support.

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7. Stay With Them.

When someone is suicidal, they should not be alone. This is especially true in a crisis situation, but even when the danger doesn’t seem imminent, keep your loved one occupied and around people who care as much as you possibly can. In a crisis, stay with your loved one until the situation is stabilized, which can take 24 to 48 hours.

8. Help Them Get Mental Health Treatment.

Having that emergency number to call is so important in the moment, but it must be followed up with a long-term plan. Suicide is often a complication of a mental health issue like depression or trauma. Help your loved one get the proper treatment.

A long-term treatment facility provides a safe place to stay, where your loved one will receive a thorough diagnosis. This is so useful in determining underlying causes of suicidal ideation. They may uncover past trauma that must be processed or get a diagnosis of depression that can be treated.

Provide your loved one with concrete options for treatment and follow through with getting them there. Offer what you can to help, whether that means financial assistance, going along to visit a treatment center, or being a part of the treatment process.

9. Engage in Healthy Habits Together.

Suicidal ideation is a mental health issue that requires professional treatment, but you can support treatment with a healthy lifestyle. Encourage your loved one to make healthy choices like exercising regularly, eating well, avoiding alcohol and drugs, socializing with friends, and engaging in hobbies and other fun activities.

Do these things together to provide support and encouragement for healthy habits. Even if you don’t live together, you can schedule workouts sessions throughout the week, make healthy dinners together, or go out for coffee.

Suicidal ideation is serious and life-threatening. If you have a loved one, a family member, or a friend who seems suicidal, don’t hesitate to help. It can be difficult to take that first step, but offering support and showing you care may save their life. These are positive, useful things you can do to help.

If you’re concerned about a loved one and believe they may need residential care, we can help. BrightQuest offers long-term treatment for people struggling with complex mental illnesses. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.