What to do I do if someone I know is having thoughts of suicide? | Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

What to do I do if someone I know is having thoughts of suicide?

September 3, 2019

September is recognized as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. This year, ANTHC is participating in a number of awareness events throughout the month to help start conversations about suicide and raise awareness. We can all prevent suicide and help save a life.

If you need immediate help or someone you know is in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, please talk to someone you trust, call 911 or call the Alaska Careline at 1-877-266-4357. The Alaska Careline Crisis line is here for you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and your calls are free and completely confidential.

After reading this blog, please take our anonymous survey to help our suicide prevention efforts.

Warning signs of suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to harm oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings
  • The more signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes suicide.

What to do if someone you know exhibits warning signs:

  • Stay with them, do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional
  • Call 911 or call the Alaska Careline at 1-877-266-4357 or the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)

Additionally, these steps can help you save a life if someone is having thoughts of suicide:

Ask direct questions and listen to the answers

Studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts, in fact findings suggest that it may reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation.

Ask a person directly “Are you thinking about suicide?” This communicates that you’re open to speaking about suicide in a nonjudgmental and supportive way. This can open the door for talking about emotional pain and can allow everyone involved to see what next steps need to be taken. “How do you hurt?” and “How can I help?” Do not over promise to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret.

Listen to their answers, people with suicidal thoughts often feel alone. Let them know that you care deeply about what they have to say. Take their answers seriously and do not ignore them, especially if they indicate they are experiencing thoughts of suicide. It is important to listen to reasons they are in such emotional pain and reasons they want to continue to stay alive. Help them focus on their reasons for living. Avoid trying to impose your reason for them to stay alive.

Keep them safe/safety check

After suicide is talked about, it is important to find out a few things to keep them safe. Have they already done anything to try to harm themselves before talking to you? Does the person experiencing thoughts of suicide know how they would harm themselves? Do they have a specific, detailed plan? What is the timing for their plan? What sort of access do they have to their planned method?

Knowing these answers can tell us a lot about the amount of danger the person is in.

If you are concerned for their well-being, try removing anything that could be used for self-harm, such as alcohol, drugs, medications, weapons, and even access to a car. Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal means is an important part of suicide prevention.

The Careline can always act as a resource if you are unsure of what to do next.

Keeping a person safe is showing support for someone during the times when they have thoughts of suicide by putting time and distance between the person and their chosen method.

Be there

Being there for someone can mean physically being there, speaking to them on the phone when you can, or any other way that shows support for the person at risk.

Make sure you follow through with the ways in which you say you’ll be able to support them. Do not commit to anything you are not willing or able to accomplish.

If you are unable to be there physically, talk with them to develop some ideas for others who might be able to help as well.

Listening is very important as this helps you find out what and who they believe will be the most effective sources of help.

Increasing connections to others and limiting feelings of being alone can be a protective factor against suicide.

Don’t keep this a secret, help connect, and seek professional help

Let them know you will help come up with a plan that includes telling a professional who can use the services and resources available to help.

Suggest they seek additional help from other people such as a doctor, counselor, psychologist or social worker.

Connecting with ongoing support (Careline) and community resources can help them establish a safety net for those moments they find themselves in crisis.


After initial contact and connecting with support systems, make sure to follow up to see how they are doing. Leave a message, send a text, or give them a call. This can increase their feelings of connectedness and share your ongoing support. 

Information from this article was provided by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline #BeThe1To http://www.bethe1to.com/bethe1to-steps-evidence/ and National Today https://nationaltoday.com/national-suicide-prevention-month/.

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