There are ways you can intervene to help prevent someone from acting on thoughts of suicide

May 5, 2021
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Anita Everett M.D. DFAPA, Director, Center for Mental Health Services

National suicide rates are rising, and this is especially true for our nation’s youth suicide rate. Suicide is largely a preventable cause of death, and you are more able to help prevent it than you might think.

Suicide is the result of actions being connected to a self-harm idea.  Many more people think about suicide than those who die by suicide; however, no one dies by suicide without having thought about it first. There is a thinking-planning phase followed by an action phase. The thinking phase is different for different people: Sometimes it is recurring and intense. Other times it may be fleeting.

There is a suicide sequence that can be interrupted, and those interruptions can be lifesaving. There are several strategies for preventing suicide that have been developed for various settings.  Generally, there are several components in these trainings that aim to separate a person’s thinking of suicide from their acting on suicidal thoughts.

Being aware of signs that something has changed in a person’s life that might make them susceptible to suicide is an important initial step. One sign that a person might be having thoughts of suicide would be indications that they already might be engaging in self-harming behaviors. Non-suicidal self-harm often can be a precursor to a suicide attempt. Reaching out to the person in a caring, respectful way is a next important step.  The third step is to gently challenge negative thoughts that often accompany or precede suicidal thoughts, and the final step is to encourage the person to seek help or to take some other positive action.

An example of this type of training strategy is the be NICE program that has been widely used and promoted by the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. This suicide prevention program uses the acronym “NICE” to represent intervention steps.  Here, “N” is for noticing the people in your environment, and “I” is for inviting a person into a conversation that creates a safe space to talk about their worries.  “C” is for challenging them to think of themselves as worthy of treatment, and “E” is for encouraging them to feel empowered to get help.

Suicide is preventable. Negative thoughts don’t have to lead to painful actions. Working together, we can make a difference!

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