Suicide Prevention — How You Can Help Keep Your Loved Ones Stay Safe


Beatrice Bruce, Reporter

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hundreds of thousands people die from suicide each year globally, and still more attempt to do so. In 2019, it was the fourth leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults. In our very own Alameda County, 767 people have passed. Suicide prevention is a very important movement to preserve the lives of those who suffer from suicidal thoughts and tendencies. There are many observable signs of suicidal intention or thoughts and ways to help and support those you love who might be at risk.

Many people don’t reach out for support outright when they feel suicidal, so it isn’t always obvious if someone is in a bad place and/or looking for a way out. Socially, people tend to become withdrawn, or more so if it is in their nature already, and may stop contacting friends and family. On the other end of the scale, some people may suddenly reach out a lot, especially to tell those close to them that they love them. Both changes in behavior are a possible display of plans to depart: those who become withdrawn may be trying to leave silently without notice, or carry the belief that those who love them don’t want to hear from them; those who begin to tell everyone they’re closest to that they love them may be sharing their last words and feelings.

People’s change in social behavior isn’t the only thing to look out for, though. In conjunction with those changes, they may also start to show a disregard for their own life by engaging in dangerous or risky activities such as reckless driving and drug and/or alcohol usage. They may display unhealthy tendencies and stop taking care of themselves by neglecting to sleep and eat, or, again on the other end of the scale, show an increase in sleeping and eating. Their mood may also begin to fluctuate to an extreme degree. These changes may come after a significant negative event in their life, such as a breakup or death of a loved one.

Even if a loved one is not openly expressing suicidal ideation, it’s always good to provide support. Preventing suicide isn’t only the act of directly stopping somebody planning to or in the process of killing themselves; it’s also helping them through their struggles, providing support in times of distress, and letting them know that they have someone there for them. Reaching out to people and staying connected, especially those who display the aforementioned signs, is something that anyone can do for those who are suffering. Reminding those you love that you care about them, depending on the nature of their challenges, can be a vital aspect of support, whether it’s by telling them directly or showing it through other means.

Mrs. Arora, an English teacher here at Granada, shared her thoughts and experiences with suicide and suicide prevention. Since a close friend and former students of hers have ended their lives, and having struggled with depression herself, she believes that supporting those suffering and being aware of it is very important. She has a semicolon tattoo on her wrist, which is a popular symbol of both personal survival and support for those who have and haven’t survived suicidality. The semicolon represents using an actual semicolon in a metaphorical sentence of your life: almost ending the sentence, but having more to say and do. 

“The meaning of my tattoo is twofold: 1) it honors my friend and former students who committed suicide and 2) it reminds me that my own story is not over, and I get to write what happens next,” said Mrs. Arora when asked about what the tattoo means to her. “The location of it makes it more visible and lets people know they can talk to me about depression or suicide.”

To many people, the topic of suicide is uncomfortable and even considered taboo–in 2021, 20 countries had it outlawed–which makes it even harder for those seeking help to get it. If there is a fear of ridicule or punishment for suffering, people will only have themselves to turn to. This makes it all the more important to make it a normal topic to address. 

In response to being asked about methods of suicide prevention or awareness, Mrs. Arora states that “Making it normal to take care of our mental health, whether it’s talking to a therapist or taking medication, is a step in the right direction. The destigmatization of mental healthcare will enable people to more easily seek out and receive help.”

If you believe someone may be experiencing suicidal ideation, being the one to initiate the conversation can be a genuine lifesaver.

Of course, some people do directly reach out about their suicidal thoughts, but it’s more often to a trusted friend or family member as opposed to a licensed official. They may ask them about death (e.g. how they would prefer to die), or express how they themselves want to pass. They may express that they feel alone or unreasonably guilty, along with the idea that people would be better off without them.

If your loved one confides in you about these thoughts and feelings, it’s important to prioritize listening over solving; acknowledge their feelings and empathize with them instead of trying immediately to fix their problems, which you likely can’t do if you aren’t a licensed professional. Provide emotional support by identifying their wants and needs and being there for them. It is very important that you don’t downplay or ignore their struggles, as it makes the person feel even worse and burdensome and increases their risk of suicide. Don’t tell them that everything will “just get better”; people who are suicidal often hold the belief that despite that sentiment, a better life just isn’t possible. Downplaying their struggles doesn’t make things better either, as it invalidates how they feel and can make them feel weaker for their suffering rather than more resilient.

In the same situation, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Gauging their risk of suicide is vital to getting them the help they need. Asking if they have a plan or if they ever act on suicidal or self-damaging tendencies can let you know if they need more immediate or urgent attention. If they seem at high risk (i.e. planning their suicide for a fast approaching date/time or during the conversation), tell someone right away, even if your loved one asks you not to. Telling a trusted adult who likely won’t react negatively or dangerously to the situation can help prevent the suicide, as they can reach out to more qualified people and get your loved one help. In the end, they also just want to be heard and seen. Even if it seems like asking about their situation may seem harmful, talking about it can ultimately be helpful in making them feel seen and no longer alone.

It isn’t always easy for the people supporting their loved ones through these feelings, however. It’s important to know about outside sources that can be helpful, like the new suicide hotline. The number pops up in most Google searches mentioning suicide, and it’s a three number line similar to 911: 988. Formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can be called by both the person suffering and anyone who is worried that their loved one needs help. The people on the line are trained crisis counselors who know how to help someone considering suicide. The number can be both called and messaged, as well as chatted through on their website. As of this article being written, the chat and text options are only available in English, but the calling service has both English and Spanish, along with translation services for over 250 languages.

The lifeline is more for those experiencing active suicidal ideation and who are high risk, but there are still external resources for those who are passively suicidal or not in immediate danger. You can look for a local psychiatrist and/or therapist, and there are many online therapy organizations. There are also many informational posts on suicide prevention made by and for those who have struggled or are struggling with suicide on social media sites like Instagram.

Even if nobody you know aligns with the things discussed in this article, regularly reaching out to friends and family is an effective way to support them and yourself. Creating a positive relationship with people and providing a healthy space for them to be open can help in most personal struggles, even if they aren’t with suicide or depression. Even if it is not necessarily in everyone’s nature, having a good social connection with at least one or two people can be very helpful for people’s mental wellbeing.