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You can be the one that helps

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and today wraps up National Suicide Prevention Week.

This round of these annual observances come at a unique time. The ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been hard on everybody emotionally, but some are struggling more than others. The social isolation, hopelessness, overexposure to constant bad news, financial devastation and more that many have experienced due to the pandemic can create a maelstrom that some may find it difficult to escape.

There are some ways you can help:

Ask: Asking the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” communicates that you’re open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way. Make sure you take their answers seriously, especially if they indicate they are experiencing thoughts of suicide, but never promise to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret. Listening to their reasons for being in such emotional pain, as well as listening for any potential reasons they want to continue to stay alive, are both incredibly important when they are telling you what’s going on.

Be there: This could mean being physically present for someone, speaking with them on the phone when you can, or any other way that shows support for the person at risk. An important aspect of this step is to make sure you follow through with the ways in which you say you’ll be able to support the person — do not commit to anything you are not willing or able to accomplish.

Keep them safe: It’s important to find out a few things to establish immediate safety. Have they already done anything to try to kill themselves before talking with you? Does the person experiencing thoughts of suicide know how they would kill themselves? Do they have a specific, detailed plan? What’s the timing for their plan? What sort of access to do they have to their planned method? Knowing the answers to each of these questions can tell a lot about the imminence and severity of danger the person is in. The more steps and pieces of a plan that are in place, the higher their severity of risk and their capability to enact their plan might be. Or if they have immediate access to a firearm and are very serious about attempting suicide, then extra steps (like calling the authorities or driving them to an emergency department) might be necessary.

Help them connect: Helping someone with thoughts of suicide connect with ongoing supports can help them establish a safety net for those moments they find themselves in a crisis. Additional components of a safety net might be connecting them with supports and resources in their communities.

Follow up: After your initial contact with a person experiencing thoughts of suicide, and after you’ve connected them with the immediate support systems they need, make sure to follow-up with them to see how they’re doing. Leave a message, send a text or give them a call. The follow-up step is a great time to check in with them to see if there is more you are capable of helping with or if there are things you’ve said you would do and haven’t yet had the chance to get done for the person.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK.