It’s sad but true. Suicide continues to be among the top 10 causes of death in the US—while it is the third leading cause of death in those who are aged between 15 and 24.

A person with suicidal thoughts is not mentally sick, but in fact, is calling out for help in a way that they are unable to express in words. Timely intervention from family members and friends can often help prevent suicide.

Here’s how you can decode suicidal thoughts in someone, and help them when they need it most:

According to Dr Claire Nicogossian, a licensed clinical psychologist, “A person who has suicidal thoughts may not always come out directly and say that they wish to die. It is important to spot those subtle signs that can help manage the situation at the onset. What precedes suicidal behavior is suicidal thinking, so family members need to be aware of a loved one’s state of mind and ability to function in day-to-day life. You may not understand how someone can want to harm themselves, but don’t shame them for it. Instead, encourage the person to increase coping skills to manage stress, difficult situations and feelings of hopelessness.” [Also Read: Self-Harm: Coping Strategies For Parents & Kids]

Patty Behrens, licensed psychotherapist and certified thanatologist with a private practice in Fresno, California, adds the following points that could indicate your loved one is having suicidal thoughts.

  • Pulling away from friends and family.
  • Anxiousness or irritation.
  • Talking about or researching about death and killing oneself.
  • Talking about not belonging or not fitting in.
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities.
  • Putting oneself down.
  • Giving up on self or feeling hopeless.
  • Start or increase using alcohol or other substances.
  • Risky and impulsive behavior.
  • Past attempts at suicide or self-harm.
  • Severe mood changes.

How To Help Prevent Suicidal Thoughts

Bridgit Debgel Gaspard, a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in working with those who struggle with suicidal and self-harming thoughts, has a very helpful approach in preventing someone from acting out those suicidal thoughts. “Don’t negate their feelings. Instead, let them know you are glad they confided in you about how upset they are. Put time and space between the urge to commit suicide and any actions towards that end, in the hopes the urge will pass. One of my favorite quick tricks is ice. Always have ice cubes available and put it on a soft part of their body, such as the inner arm or neck. The cold will cause a physiological effect and the person will snap to a next ‘right step’ such as taking a breath.”

  • Keep all prescription medicines as well as alcohol or any other lethal substances locked and out of reach.
  • Do not leave the person alone, but do not make them feel that you are constantly watching them either.
  • Listen and empathize. Get in touch with a counselor.

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