Suicide Prevention: Guidance for Family & Friends

Suicide Warning

“Bill, my husband has been depressed for so long now. He’s never said anything about suicide, but how do I really know he’s not thinking about it? What do I do?”

Asking that question shows how much you love him. And don’t feel like you’re the only inquiring mind that wants to know. Fact is, the ones closest to someone in danger of taking their life most often don’t know what end’s up.

A Telling Suicide Prevention Study

Very recent research speaks volumes about the suicide prevention know-how of family members, significant others, friends, and colleagues.

Dr. Christabel Owens from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, Plymouth UK led the work. And the results were just published in the British Medical Journal.

Yes, it seems those closest to someone contemplating suicide have no clue how close a suicide may be, or what to do about it. According to Dr. Owens…

“Even doctors with many years’ training and experience find it very difficult to assess whether or not a person is at imminent risk of suicide. Family members and friends find themselves in uncharted territory, with no training and little public information to guide them.”

“They may know that a relative or friend is troubled but have absolutely no idea that suicide is a possibility. The person may give very indirect hints, possibly when disinhibited by alcohol, that they are thinking of killing themselves, but it is difficult for others to know how seriously to take these messages and how to respond to them.”

Dr. Owens and team researched 14 adult UK suicides. None of the victims were receiving emotional/mental health care.

The team asked family members, significant others, friends, and colleagues of those who had completed suicide what they’d witnessed in the period leading up to the event. More to the point, they asked how they’d interpreted what they saw.

What they discovered was those who knew the victims best didn’t always receive clear warning signals. And even when they knew something was seriously wrong, they frequently weren’t able to muster the courage to do something about it.

Why is that?

Well, it actually makes sense. See, those closest to someone contemplating suicide deal with powerful emotional blocks – fear being paramount.

Specifically, it may be a matter of fear of intrusion – risking damaging a valued relationship. Simply, it’s about, “What would happen if I said the wrong thing?”

No doubt, this is high-risk and high-stakes business.

Dr. Owens and team point-out that one of the major reasons all of this occurs is there are no clear “see this/do that” protocols. Bottom-line: the information doesn’t appear to be readily available.

Well, we’re going to do something about that…

The Warning Signs of Suicide and What to Do

According to the American Association of Suicidology, here are the warning signs of acute suicide risk…

  • Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or expressing the desire
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means
  • Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide – when these behaviors are out of the ordinary

But there’s more. Consider these additional warning signs…

  • Increased substance use
  • No reason for living – no sense of life purpose
  • Anxiety, agitation, being unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time
  • Feeling trapped, as if there’s no way out
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, society
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Dramatic mood changes

Maybe that’s tough for you to remember. So try this mnemonic on for size…


Substance Abuse


Mood Changes

A Call to Action

If you have a family member, significant other, friend, or colleague who you believe may be at risk for suicide (now or in the future), you owe it to them (and yourself) to be prepared.

A great way to do exactly that is to spend some time on the website of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. In the face of crisis, they’re accessible by dialing 800-273-TALK (8255).

Please remember you’re not alone in terms of not really knowing what to do when someone close to you may be suicidal. But what will make you stand-out is your willingness to do something about it.

Learn and take action!

Would you like to read more articles on the psychology of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder? Well, tap right here.