How to Help

People contemplating suicide feel so alone and helpless. The most important thing to do if you think a friend or loved one is suicidal is to communicate with them openly and frequently. Make it clear that you care and stress your willingness to listen. Be sure to take all talk of suicide seriously. Don't assume that people who talk about killing themselves will not follow through. An estimated 80 percent of all those who commit suicide give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member.

One of the most common misconceptions is that talking with someone who might be contemplating suicide may make the situation worse. This is not true. There is no danger of "giving someone the idea." Rather, the opposite is correct. Bringing up the question of suicide and discussing it without showing shock or disapproval is one of the most helpful things you can do. This openness shows that you are taking the individual seriously and responding to the severity of their distress.

Never assume that those contemplating suicide are unwilling to seek help. Studies of suicide victims show that more than half had sought medical help within six months before their deaths. It is also important that you don't leave the suicidal person to find help alone. Never assume that someone who is determined to end his or her life can't be stopped. Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, wavering until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to die. Most suicidal people do not want death they just want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, though, no matter how overpowering, does not last forever. The majority of young people who hear a suicide threat from a friend or loved one don't report the threat to an adult. Take all threats seriously and remember you are not betraying someone's trust by trying to keep them alive.

If you know of a friend or loved one who is contemplating suicide, it is essential to help him or her find immediate professional care. Call the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI [6264] for more information and to help you locate your local NAMI for area assistance. If you think the threat is immediate, call 911.

Important Consideration

Do not assume that someone who was considering suicide, now in treatment, and is telling you that he or she is feeling better is, in fact, doing better. Some who commit suicide actually do so as they appear to be improving. While it's not healthy to monitor every action of someone who is recovering from suicidal thoughts, it is important to make certain that the lines of communication between you and the individual remain open.