What to Say to Someone Depressed or Suicidal
According to the CDC, at least 3 in 20 students in a typical high school classroom have seriously considered taking their lives in the past year. With teen depression and suicidal ideation on the rise in these digital times, we’re likely to see these numbers increase.

What to Say to Someone Depressed or Suicidal

According to the CDC, at least 3 in 20 students in a typical high school classroom have seriously considered taking their lives in the past year. With teen depression and suicidal ideation on the rise in these digital times, we’re likely to see these numbers increase. Will we know what to say if that student, friend, or neighbor reaches out to us? Will we be able to help?

4 things to ask if you suspect someone is suicidal

Many times, a depressed or suicidal friend won’t approach you directly to ask for help. If you notice a significant change in someone’s behavior (they seem withdrawn, down, disengaged, or angry, for example), then you might want to initiate a conversation with one or more of these questions.
  1. You don’t seem yourself lately. [Add observational details]. Are you all right?
  2. I’m concerned because I’ve noticed a change in you. [Add observational details]. What’s going on? What might help you feel better?
  3. You seem upset. Do you need to vent? I’m here for you. I’ll listen.
  4. You seem to be going through something tough. What can I do to support you ?

How to show you care

  • Are you thinking of taking your life right now?
If your friend has already put together a suicide plan or is about to take their life, immediately call 911 and get emergency assistance. You should let trained professionals help rather than try to handle it yourself. 
  •  When did you start feeling this way?
When a suicidal person reaches out for help, they really want someone to hear their story. Asking open-ended questions and listening lets them do that. Don’t be judgmental or dispense advice. Simply pay attention and affirm their experience.
  • I care about you and I’m here to help.
Why would someone struggling with suicidal tendencies reach out to us? They’re in a battle for their lives, and they don’t want to fight it alone any more. Showing them that we are here, we care, and we want to help assures them they’re not alone. It also opens the door for talking about specifics on how we can help. 
  • Have you considered getting professional help?
If someone, especially a student, confides a personal battle with depression and suicidal tendencies, this shows they trust the other person. Because they fear breaking this trust, many friends and teachers wonder if they should keep this information secret. While we of course need to be mindful of whom and what we tell, the answer is emphatically no. In fact, a key goal of any discussion with a suicidal person is to get them to seek professional help. If your friend had malignant cancer, you would encourage them to go to the hospital, even if they were reluctant at first. It’s the same with other life-threatening conditions, including suicide.  We shouldn’t give up if the person resists. Tell them you’re asking because you care. Offer to help them find and schedule an appointment with a mental health counselor. Go with them to that appointment, if they want. 

You are someone a struggling person trusts

Stay informed on how to help, find your local suicide hotline, and empower others to seek help. Your empathetic listening and kind words won’t make things worse. Indeed, your actions have the power to make things better for others by setting them on the road to recovery.    

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

 

Pam McNall is the founder and CEO of Respectful Ways social-emotional learning (SEL) program, a trauma-informed curriculum that teaches PreK-12 students social skills and emotional intelligence. Our partnership with the Attachment & Trauma Network involves their team adding trauma-sensitive strategies and updates to all our lesson plans and digital materials. Ms. McNall also hosts Professional Development workshops that are custom-designed with your teacher's SEL needs in mind. Before developing Respectful Ways with her educational team, Ms. McNall was an award-winning journalist, covering some of the world's most compelling stories for CNN. For more information visit Respectful Ways dot com

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