Ask directly about suicide
When you notice any warning signs, check in with your friend. Tell them that you're concerned and mention the warning signs you've noticed. If you're not sure whether someone is thinking about suicide, ask. When asking your friend if they're thinking about suicide, be clear and direct. For example: "Are you having thoughts of suicide?" or "I'm concerned about you. I'm wondering if you're thinking about suicide." You will not increase your friend's risk of suicide by asking them directly about it. On the contrary, if your friend is feeling suicidal, being direct will help them recognize that there are people who care. When someone is thinking of suicide, they typically welcome the chance to talk about the pain they're feeling. However, if your friend doesn't respond positively, continue to express support. Explain that it was out of concern for them that you brought it up. If you continue to notice warning signs, call the Behavior Concerns Advice Line to get additional support for them. It is important not to keep your concerns to yourself if you're worried about their safety.
When approaching a /friend who is experiencing emotional distress, be patient and supportive. You may not be able to understand how your friend is feeling, and it may seem uncomfortable or awkward to discuss personal and emotional issues. That's ok. Allow your friend to express whatever they're feeling. Your role is not to counsel them through this crisis, but to be a good listener. Listen in a way that shows empathy and compassion.
Minimize all distractions.
Talk in a quiet, private place where you're unlikely to be interrupted.
Ask open-ended questions
(questions that elicit a variety of answers) to learn more about what your friend is going through. An example of an open-ended question is, "What's going on for you right now?" or "How does that make you feel?" Use close-ended questions (questions that elicit "yes" or "no" answers) when you need specific information. An example of a closed-ended questions is "Have you had thoughts of suicide?"
Don't rush to judgment or argue about moral or spiritual issues regarding suicide. Keep in mind that suicide isn't the problem. It's the perceived solution for what seems to be an unsolvable problem(s).
Let them know that you're concerned because you care about them. Say something like, "You are important to me; I'm concerned that you seem really sad."
Sometimes people see asking for help as a sign of weakness. Give the message that it's OK to ask for help.
- Share an example of a time you or someone you know struggled and needed support.
- Suggest that reaching out for support is the first step to feeling better. Mental health problems are treatable and manageable once identified. Sometimes we need a mental health check-up just as we do a physical exam.
- Think about why he/she might be reluctant to reach out for help. Our backgrounds, cultures and experiences can have a huge impact on how we view help seeking. Some people may come from families or ethnic groups where asking for help or seeking a mental health professional is shunned or thought of as weak.
Connect to Resources
- Connect your friend to mental health resources. It is important that you are not alone in reaching out to your friend. This means connecting your friend to a mental health professional. Let your student/friend know that help is available, help is effective, and that seeking help is the courageous thing to do. Offer to accompany them to their first appointment with a doctor or counselor, or to assist in scheduling the appointment. Help your student/ friend access one of the many resources here at UT and/or in the community.
- Do not allow yourself to be the only one who is helping. Recognize the limits of your expertise and responsibility. Get others involved who can help your friend and be supportive to them. This may mean sharing your concerns as needed with your friend's partner, family, other friends, academic advisor, supervisor, faculty/staff, etc.
- Always follow up. Most people in distress feel like a burden to others and are unlikely to bring up the issue again. So, it is important to let your friend know that you are still thinking about them, let them know you care about them, and - most importantly - emphasize how important it is to seek help.
While it is rare, there are some situations where emergency help is necessary for your student or friend.
You should take immediate action and call 911 if you notice your student/friend:
- has a weapon and is threatening to use it. If this is the case, make sure you leave the area immediately for your own safety.
- is threatening immediate harm to him/herself (e.g., jumping out of a window, stepping in front of traffic)
- has engaged in a behavior that requires medical attention (e.g., has taken pills)
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LIFE - How to Deal
Tips from nationally known Mental Health Advocate, Ross Szabo, speaking about mental health issues.