What to do if you think a loved one is suicidal?

Discovering that someone you love may be having thoughts of suicide can be extremely distressing. However, there are steps you can take to support them and help keep them safe. Here are some important things to consider if you think a loved one may be at risk of suicide.

Look for warning signs

There are often behavioral changes or warning signs that indicate someone may be thinking about suicide. These include:

  • Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself
  • Looking for ways to commit suicide, like searching online
  • Saying goodbye to loved ones or giving away possessions
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Feeling trapped, hopeless, or experiencing unbearable pain
  • Drastic changes in mood, diet, or sleep
  • Increased drug or alcohol use
  • Reckless behaviors

The more warning signs, the greater the risk. It’s important not to ignore comments about suicide or assume the person is just seeking attention. All threats or talk of suicide should be taken seriously.

Have a conversation

If you notice any of these warning signs, have a direct conversation with your loved one as soon as possible. Find a private place to talk and make sure you both have time set aside for the conversation. Here are some tips for discussing your concerns:

  • Speak calmly and avoid judgment. Express your concern and desire to help.
  • Ask directly if they are having thoughts of suicide. Don’t be afraid to say the word “suicide.”
  • Allow them to talk about their feelings. Listen without lecturing.
  • Ask if they have a specific plan. The more detailed the plan, the higher the risk.
  • Find out if they have access to anything they could use to commit suicide, like medications or a weapon.
  • Do not agree to keep their thoughts a secret. Explain you care about them and want to make sure they stay safe.
  • Assure them there is help and they are not alone. Instill hope.

Reduce access to lethal means

If your loved one is at high risk of acting on suicidal thoughts, try to restrict their access to anything they could use to commit suicide. This includes:

  • Firearms – Remove guns from the home or secure them locked up. Consider temporarily transferring firearms to another trusted individual.
  • Medications – Take a full inventory of all medications and limit access to over-the-counter drugs they could overdose on.
  • Other dangers – Secure knives, toxins, car keys or anything else they may try to use to harm themselves.

Contact help immediately

If the situation seems dire, do not leave the person alone. Call 911 or a suicide hotline number right away so they can speak directly to a trained counselor. Other options for emergency help include:

  • Taking them to a hospital emergency room
  • Calling their doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist
  • Contacting a mobile crisis team if one is available in your area

Even if they show improvement after your talk, safety precautions should remain in place until a mental health professional can assess the person.

Involve other loved ones

Don’t try to handle the situation alone. Inform other family members, close friends, or anyone else who is close with the person at risk. Ask them to help monitor their loved one’s mood and safety. The more people providing support, the better.

Encourage professional help

Gently suggest the person at risk seek help from a trained mental health professional, like a psychologist, counselor, or psychiatrist. Offer to help set up an appointment or go with them. Here are some options to consider recommending:

  • Individual counseling – One-on-one talk therapy provides support and teaches coping strategies.
  • Support groups – Sharing with others who have similar struggles can help reduce isolation.
  • Medication – Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication may be needed to balance brain chemistry.
  • Inpatient treatment – For those at the highest risk, short-term hospitalization may be needed to stabilize symptoms.

Treatment like therapy combined with medication is often the most effective strategy. Help them understand suicidal thoughts do not indicate weakness and recovery is possible.

Take care of yourself

Helping someone through thoughts of suicide can take an emotional toll. Make sure you also prioritize your mental well-being during this difficult time. Coping tips include:

  • Making time for your own therapy or self-care routine
  • Setting healthy boundaries and taking breaks from the situation
  • Staying connected to a support system of people you trust
  • Avoiding use of alcohol or drugs to cope
  • Getting enough sleep, nutrition and exercise

You cannot control someone else’s behavior. Just do your best to provide support and guide your loved one to professional help. Their recovery is ultimately in their hands.

Have an action plan in place

Work with your loved one to create a written action plan identifying:

  • Warning signs that indicate suicidal thinking
  • Internal coping strategies that can diffuse a crisis
  • People and social settings that provide distraction and comfort
  • Professionals to immediately contact for help

Having a pre-established plan can help guide them through moments of intense suicidal thoughts. Make sure they keep a copy somewhere easily accessed even during a crisis.

Continue showing support

Recovery from suicidal thinking takes time. Provide ongoing support to the person at risk through:

  • Checking in regularly to talk or spend time together
  • Reminding them to attend therapy and take any prescribed medications
  • Being understanding on bad days and celebrating progress
  • Sending encouraging text messages to show you care
  • Inviting them to join uplifting social activities

Your support reminds the person their life has meaning. With time and treatment, they will start to regain hope for the future.

Know when to seek emergency help again

Even after involving a professional, stay vigilant for any warning signs that may reemerge. Return immediately to emergency interventions like calling 911 if you observe any of the following:

  • Statements about wanting to die or kill themselves
  • Looking for ways to commit suicide
  • Increased irritability, rage, recklessness or moodiness
  • Feelings of being trapped or withdrawal from loved ones
  • Anxiety, agitation or inability to sleep

A suicidal crisis can come in waves. Work closely with their treatment team and don’t hesitate to go back to emergency responders if you sense their life is in imminent danger again.

Consider hospitalization

For a loved one who remains actively suicidal despite treatment, psychiatric hospitalization may be needed to keep them safe. Admission is generally recommended if they:

  • Attempt suicide or develop a detailed plan
  • Can’t guarantee their own safety
  • Need medication adjustments or more intensive care
  • Have limited family support to monitor them

Hospital stays tend to last several days to a couple weeks. The time allows for:

  • Medication management
  • Intensive psychotherapy
  • 24/7 monitoring for safety
  • Stabilizing or improving mood
  • Developing a discharge plan

The goal is to get the treatment needed so they can return home safely. Be an active part of the discharge planning process.

Don’t give up hope

It’s devastating to watch someone you love deal with thoughts of ending their life. But suicidal crises can be overcome. Avoid assuming their case is hopeless or that someone suicidal will never recover. With compassionate support and proper professional help, many people go on to lead happy, healthy lives.


Discovering a loved one may be suicidal is frightening. But there are ways you can help protect them and get them the treatment they need. Having an open conversation, securing dangerous objects, and reaching out for professional help can make a life-saving difference. With time, appropriate treatment, and ongoing support, they can come through the suicidal crisis. Never give up hope that recovery is possible.

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