Talking Openly About Suicide Prevention

There is a growing crisis in the Black community: suicide. This year alone has seen a startling rise in the number of suicides among Black people, especially Black kids. Yet because the subject is taboo, we miss opportunities to have much needed conversations on recognizing and preventing potentially suicidal situations. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and we’re breaking the taboo. Guided by expert advice, we have compiled a shortlist of steps you can take if you believe that a friend or family member may be at risk of committing suicide.

Pay Attention to the Signs

You may not always be able to tell if someone you care about is suicidal, but in many cases the warning signs are there. Signs of withdrawal or expressions of hopelessness may constitute suicidal signals. However, given the current global pandemic these are also behaviors that many without suicidal thoughts may also be exhibiting. It therefore may be difficult to separate those who may or may not be suicidal on those criteria alone. Has their despondency been paired with their giving away of valued and sentimental possessions? Have they talked about harming themselves or made statements such as “"I wish I were dead?" Warnings like these should be taken seriously. Recognizing that someone may be in danger is the first step towards interventions that may save a life.

Lend a Listening Ear

Having a real conversation with someone expressing suicidal thoughts requires empathy, patience and understanding. Listen to them attentively and avoid the urge to give advice or minimize their problems. Ask open-ended questions that creates the space for an authentic dialogue. Some questions to consider include:

  • How have you been feeling lately?

  • Have you been feeling trapped or feel like giving up?

  • How are you coping with your stress?

Ask them directly if they have been thinking about suicide or harming themselves. Ask them if they have thought about how they might do it or if they currently have access to weapons or materials to carry it out. Most importantly, this is no time to be judgemental. Leave your judgment at the door and instead prioritize compassion. This is a vulnerable time in a person’s life, so ask yourself how you can best address their needs when they themselves may not be in a state to provide the answers.  

Seek Professional Help

Few of us are equipped to handle suicidal situations on our own. The good news is you don’t have to. There are a ton of resources out there to help you deal with a crisis. If you think a loved one may commit or has attempted suicide, call 911. Do not leave the person alone. If you can, escort them to the nearest emergency or mental health facility. Encourage them to speak with a behavioral health expert. You never know what a person is going through at any particular moment, and though you are never responsible for someone’s decision to take their own life, you may be able to play a significant role in preventing tragedy from occurring. 

Let’s use this Suicide Prevention Awareness Month as a starting point to have ongoing conversations about suicide and behavioral health, especially within the Black community. If you haven’t already, please sign up for the Men Thrive newsletter, where we’ll dive deeper into the challenges of combatting the stigma around talking about suicide.

To learn more about ways to prevent suicide, check out the following resources:

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