The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were shocking events.
Like a boulder dropped in the middle of a lake, the shock waves of their suicide flow in every direction. The lives of their families and friends have been shattered.
Even those far-removed Bourdain or Spade’s social circles feel the effect. CNN reported that calls to suicide hotlines around the US shot up 65% in the days after news of their deaths. There’s a good chance that many of these calls were to get help for a family member or friend.
How do you know if someone is thinking of suicide?
Use the easy to remember mnemonic IS PATH WARM to ask about it.
S Substance Abuse
M Mood Changes
What should you do if you believe someone’s PATH IS WARM?
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline has developed a five-step process you can take to help someone who is at risk for suicide. The program is called #BeThe1to. Follow this on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. For this blog, I’ve condensed the steps. Read the full article here.
Step 1: #BeThe1to ASK THE QUESTION
Ask the question directly in a non-judgmental “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
Asking if they are thinking of suicide does not put the thought into their mind. It does not increase suicidal thoughts. It does not increase the likelihood that they will commit suicide. In fact, the opposite is true: acknowledging suicidal thoughts may reduce the thoughts and the risk of suicide.
After you ask the question “Listen.” Take their answers seriously. Don’t ignore them. Don’t argue with them. Instead, listen to the reasons they’re experiencing the emotional pain. Listen, too, for any reasons they want to continue to stay alive. These buffers are protective factors against suicidal thoughts. As you Ask and Listen, help them focus on their reasons for living. While you can suggest reasons, avoid trying to impose your reasons for them to stay alive.
If they admit to having suicidal thoughts don’t agree to their request that you not to tell anyone else. As I tell my clients “Mold grows in the dark.”
Step 2: #BeThe1to KEEP THEM SAFE
After you “Ask,” it’s important to find out a few things to keep them safe:
Have you already done anything to try to kill yourself before talking with me?
Do you have a plan for how you would try to kill yourself?
Have you decided on a time that you would try to kill yourself?
What method have you thought of using?
The more pieces of a plan that are in place, the higher their severity of risk of following through with their plan. The severity of the risk is higher still if they say they plan to use a lethal method such as a weapon, prescription medication, or poison. Knowing these things will enable you to help keep them safe until they get professional help. It will help you take the next step with them.
If the method is lethal, ask them to give it to another person for safe keeping.
Step 3: #BeThe1to BE THERE
This could mean being physically present with them, talking with them on the phone, or any other way that shows your concern and support for them. “Being there for someone with thoughts of suicide is life-saving. Increasing someone’s connectedness to others and limiting their isolation (both in the short and long-term) has shown to be a protective factor against suicide.”
If you can’t be physically present with someone who is having thoughts of suicide, help them develop some ideas for others who might be able to help as well. Specific names and telephone numbers.
Step 4: #BeThe1to HELP THEM CONNECT
Help them connect with ongoing supports such as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255) or suicidepreventionlifeline.com
Additional components of a safety net might be connecting them with supports and resources in their communities. Are they currently seeing a mental health professional? Have they in the past? Is this an option for them currently? Are there other mental health resources in the community that can effectively help?
My3 app is a safety planning and crisis intervention app that can help develop these supports and is stored conveniently on their smartphone for quick access.
Step 5: #BeThe1to FOLLOW UP
In the days after your initial conversations and after you’ve helped them connect with others who will be their support team, make sure to follow-up to see how they’re doing. Call. Leave a message. Send a text. Send a postcard.
Continued contact can increase their feelings of connectedness with others. Remember that Withdrawal – isolation from others – and loneliness increases the risk for a return of suicidal thinking.
Step 6: Be there for yourself.
It can be frightening to hear someone admit to having suicidal thoughts. It’s possible that you might experience some anxiety about what you’ve gone through.
In situations like these – and any other time you experience an unexpected and threatening event, it’s critical that you take care of yourself.
Find a trusted friend you can talk with about what you’ve experienced. Talk with a pastor, priest or rabbi. Contact your local community mental health center.
Remember to get enough sleep. Eat a balanced diet. Keep close to your family and other support network.
The message you hear from the flight attendants before take-off bears repeating here, “Put your own oxygen mask on first before you attempt to help the person sitting next to you.”
This post is not written or intended to diagnose or treat any mental health condition, including suicidal thinking or actions. It is provided for informational purposes only. You acknowledge this disclaimer and agree to hold harmless the author or any of the direct or indirect links by continuing to read or access this site. Any links beyond drcraigloving.com are the responsibility of the siteholder and are not to be construed as an endorsement of the information or views on that site.
If you or someone you care about is experiencing a mental health crisis, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room or urgent care center.