How can I help someone considering suicide?

Learn how you can help – or get help – from the Rev. Suzanne Watson, M.D., a third-year psychiatry resident at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine and an ordained Episcopal priest.

A student takes notes sitting under a large tree on the University Quad. Morrill Hall is in the background, and it is autumn, so the leaves are changes.

The Rev. Suzanne Watson, M.D., a third-year psychiatry resident at UNR Med and an ordained Episcopal priest, is working to stamp out the stigma surrounding depression and other mental health issues.

Dr. Watson’s husband, a physician and hospital chief of staff, committed suicide more than a decade ago due to depression. He initially did not ask for help because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. He was afraid that it might be reportable to the medical board, what his colleagues might say and the financial implications for his practice and his family—four children under age 10.

Dr. Watson believes that if her husband had reached out for help when he first began experiencing symptoms of depression—lack of interest in doing things he used to enjoy, feeling down, guilty and without hope, sleeping poorly and feeling very irritable—that he would still be alive today.

“Acute episodes of depression and bipolar disorder don’t have to end as my husband’s story did.,” Dr. Watson said. “With good treatment, similar tragedy can be prevented and a joyful, abundant life filled with hope can be found.”

For National Suicide Prevention Week Sept. 8-14, we asked the Rev. Dr. Watson to share her experience and expertise.

How can I help someone who is considering suicide?

If you think someone is contemplating suicide, assume you are the only one who will reach out. When talking to someone who may be struggling with mental health, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recommends:

  • Talk to them in private.
  • Listen to their story.
  • Tell them you care about them.
  • Ask directly if they are thinking about suicide.
  • Encourage them to seek treatment or to contact their doctor or therapist.
  • Avoid debating the value of life, minimizing their problems or giving advice.

What do I do if someone tells me they have been considering suicide?

If someone says they want to take their own life, take that person seriously. Stay with them, and help remove any lethal means. In addition:

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7.
  • Escort them to mental health services or an emergency room.

What are the warning signs that someone may be suicidal?

There are several warning signs that could indicate a high risk of suicide, including if a person talks about killing themselves, feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, being a burden to others, feeling trapped and experiencing unbearable pain.

Certain behaviors may also signal risk, especially when related to a painful event, loss or change:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression
  • Fatigue

In addition, people who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest
  • Irritability
  • Humiliation/shame
  • Agitation/anger
  • Relief/sudden improvement

What do I do if I am thinking about suicide?

Tell someone! You do not need to suffer in silence.

To get help, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There is also a Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454..

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