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Being Empathetic Can Help Prevent Suicide

It can be hard to think of the words to say when someone appears to be struggling or talks about wanting to end their life. But taking action and having the tough conversation can save a person’s life. We must let the people we are connected to know that we care and are here to support them. Showing empathy and listening to others conveys that they are valued. Knowing where to start the conversation can help communicate in a supportive manner. The following are some strategies to use when approaching individuals that have been recognized asacting outside their norm” who may need help.  


1. Start the conversation. 


Space: It’s important to consider the right time and place to talk to someone about the issues they may be facing. Be intentional. Ask them to step outside or go somewhere private for a talk. 


Permission: Asking for permission is very important. You can’t demand they tell you what is going on, but you can ask. “Do you mind if I ask about some of the things I am seeing and am concerned about? If you don’t want to, can I help get you connected to someone you are willing to talk to?” 


2. Lay a supportive foundation.  

Express support: Tell the person why you’re concerned. “You don’t seem like yourself, and I’ve noticed you seem anxious. What’s going on?” 


Ask for some background: Tell me how you’re feeling. How long have you been feeling like this or having these issues?” 


Check personal  bias at the door: This isn’t about you. This is about the individual you are concerned about. Don’t try to interrupt in with examples of how you or someone overcame a similar issue. Don’t minimize the person’s problem. Listen. Try to see it from the person’s perspective.


3. Ask the BIG questions.   

“Are you having thoughts about hurting yourself?” 

“Are you thinking about, or have you thought about killing yourself?”


4. Show you care with actions and words. 


Summarize what you’ve been told and offer support: By summarizing what the person shared, you show you were listening and understand where the person stands.   


Connect with help: Once you have a basic understanding of the issue and what the individual is willing to try, connect the person with helping resources. Take the person to see a Chaplain, set up an appointment at the Community Counseling Program, walk the person into the office, or call the Military Crisis Line at 988 in the U.S. or 800-273-8255 and press 1 outside the U.S. 


5. Follow through with the person.  


Check In: Be sure to check in with the individual in the days/weeks/months to come. Check in often and follow the same strategy as before. Make the person feel confident about opening-up. Let the person know that you are there for any future issues.  

Tough conversations can make a huge difference. Be courageous and start the conversation. Ask. Listen. Support. You could save a life. 

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