September 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day, and shortly after that, a classmate in my Chinese philosophy class told us she was having suicidal thoughts. Our teacher then guided us to discuss this serious topic: How can we help ourselves and others who have suicidal thoughts?
I think this is a very serious and important topic that we should all have some basic knowledge in. According to the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the world loses someone to suicide every 40 seconds. Every suicide is a tragedy that affects families, friends, and entire communities.
Having some basic suicide prevention knowledge is kind of like first aid: we hope we don't need to use it, but should the situation arise, we need to be prepared. Otherwise, we may have a lot of regret in the future.
Below, I share some important advice I learned about suicide prevention during my time as a Residence Don and from my discussion class this past week. I think of them like tools in my mental health first aid kit. And just like first aid, these tips can not only help others, they might turn out to be critically useful for ourselves too.
1: Notice and ask.
If someone has a sudden and big change in behavior, that is usually a sign that something is wrong. You can use their behavior change to inquire. For example, "Hey Bob, I noticed you are a lot more gloomy and skipping class these days. This is quite different from a couple months ago, when you used to be fine and attended class normally, so I am concerned for you. What's happening?"
2: Get trained help.
If they tell you they are having suicidal thoughts, that is an SOS signal, and they really need your help. Don't take it as a joke. Since we are not trained professionals, we should help them call a suicide prevention hotline or seek some form of trained help. We can also do some of the additional tips below.
3: Find out what they still care about.
Then, based on that, remind them that if they commit suicide, they will never be able to have that again. For example, they will never be able to do what they enjoy, see the people they love, eat the food they like, travel to the places they want to see, etc. Do you really want to throw all of that away now? (At the very least, this might buy some time for them to get professional help).
4: Think about a failed attempt.
Remind them that if they attempt suicide and fail, the aftermath would be horrible. For example, they might become crippled or disabled. Then not only would it be painful, it would be very hard to attempt suicide again. Wouldn't it be better and less risky to get some help?
5: Show consideration and care.
Oftentimes, people who feel suicidal feel like no one cares about them in this world, and that if they leave, it wouldn't make a difference to anyone or anything. Let them know that there is at least one person in this world who still cares about them, who wants them alive in this world.
6: Consider impact on loved ones
Help them think about the impact on their loved ones and the people they care about. Think about the pain and suffering that their death would cause to those people. Their loved ones may experience shock, depression, guilt, or even become suicidal themselves.
7: Help them find their value and usefulness in the world.
For example, go volunteering together to help people in need. Perhaps it's volunteering at a food kitchen, homeless shelter, or an animal rescue shelter. When people feel like they are making an impact in this world, they will feel a sense of purpose to keep living.
8: Make future plans
Make future plans so that they feel like they haven't finished everything that they're supposed to do in this world. For example, ask them to teach you something that they are good at, or ask them to go to a future event with you, or plan a future hangout together, etc.
9: Shift attention to gratitude
Help them count their blessings and to realize that things might not be as bad as they imagine in their mind. You could even make a visit to homeless shelters or the hospital to see firsthand the struggles that other people are facing. When we shift our attention from negative things (e.g., problems) to positive things (e.g., gratitude), our mood will improve.
10: Help them get busy.
When people have a lot of things to do, they lack the free time to sit there and think about suicide. For example, when we have homework to submit to a teacher, or a project to work on, our mind will naturally be preoccupied with that.
My experience on this subject is very limited, so I only hope to provide some basic tools that we should all be aware of in our "metal health first aid kit." Everyone's situation is unique, but we could all reduce our chance of mental illness by staying mentally healthy.
Coincidentally, I am currently teaching a high school mental health course right now, and some useful resources I would recommend are
Let's all do our part to reduce suffering and increase hope in our world.