How to help someone who is depressed

When when you lose someone to suicide, hindsight can painfully present the warning signs that were missed. But in the moment that you are trying to help someone who is depressed, you feel overwhelmed and helpless. It’s like you are staring at a thousand puzzle pieces and don’t know where to begin. You try to force the pieces together where you think they should go but they just won’t fit. The best way to start a puzzle is by connecting the pieces on the edge first, where the fit is more obvious. The same goes for helping someone that is depressed – you must pay close attention to the signs and symptoms.

From my ASIST training in suicide prevention, I learned how to safely help someone that may be thinking about suicide. The information that I am sharing should not be used in absence of professional help. If you fear someone is in crisis and may take their life, seek professional help immediately.

The suicidal person really does not want to die but they do want to end their pain, so use the warning signs you’ve witnessed as invitations to ask someone if they are OK. Let them know you have noticed things that don’t seem like their typical behavior, and express your concern for them. When they confide in you with their feelings, ask important questions. Use the “s word” directly like this: “Are you thinking about suicide?” Ask them if they have a plan, including how and when. It’s important to know that talking about suicide will NOT put the idea in their head if it wasn’t already there. Asking could save their life.

Once you have made a connection, you need to begin understanding why someone may want to die. To see the bigger picture, it is very important that you let him or her express all their reasons for wanting to die for as long as they feel they need to talk about it. You’ll feel a strong urge to interject with comments like “but you have so much to live for” or “your family will miss you,” – but instead you should just listen with compassion and without judgement.

Now is the time to offer hope and to assist him or her to get professional help. Call the crisis hotline together. If they have a doctor or counselor, help them schedule an appointment and go with them to that appointment. If they need their medication, help them refill a prescription. If they answered your questions about how they plan to die, disable their plan by removing guns, drugs or other means from their access.

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