How to Approach and Help Someone with Thoughts of Suicide

One voice is all it could take. One smile. One person to reach out and show that they care. One reason to not extinguish the one and only flame that ignites the soul. One reason to keep living. One voice can have a heavier impact than the weight of the world burdened on someone depressed and suicidal. 

Nearly 800,000 people die by suicide in the world each year—roughly one death every 40 seconds. It is the 2nd leading cause of death in the world for those aged 15-24; 4th leading cause of death for adults ages 18-65. However, according to a study by Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study (TADS), 80- 90 percent of people that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully using therapy and/or medication.  

There are 9 different classifications of depression, each with specific symptoms. Recurring thoughts of death or suicide or even a specific plan for it is usually present among those with mild, moderate, and severe depression. Other common symptoms include: depressed mood, loss of interest in activities, sleeping too much or not enough, a decrease or increase in appetite, energy level, and lack of concentration. If any of these symptoms last for about two weeks, there may be a case of mild, moderate, or severe depression. Other things to look out for include missing work, breaking down at work or having trouble getting out of bed. When it gets to severe depression, the person is having overwhelming thoughts of suicide, and self-harm. Severe depression causes a person to magnify all the negatives and to minimize any of the positives in their life. However, depression is also one of the most treatable mental health conditions. 

If you or someone you know are experiencing thoughts of harm or killing themselves, reach out to someone for help. Call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or call a counselor or doctor to get help immediately.   

If you’re a veteran in crisis or concerned about one, call the 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line at call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. It’s available to anyone, even if you’re not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.

Knowing exactly what depression is and how it can lead to suicide is important, but equally important is knowing when and how to approach someone with thoughts of suicide; how to start the conversation towards getting them the help they need. When someone close to you is depressed, offering support can be challenging if you don’t know what the person needs. Additionally, depression also effects everyone surrounding the person. Family members and friends often feel helpless, not knowing how to reach out or what to do to help their suffering loved one. The depressed can be embarrassed to say how they feel, anticipating judgment, which makes communication even more difficult. How do you proceed with such little or no direction? Every case of depression is different, but here are a few universal things you can try that will empower both you and your loved one toward recovery and hope.

1. Educate Yourself About Depression and Other Mood Disorders You may not be able to cure your loved one. But you can educate yourself about depression or the kind of mood disorder he/she must better understand their condition. Doing this will give you more patience and confidence to tolerate the confusing or frustrating symptoms. 

Here are some places to start: 

  • is an online resource designed to connect veterans, their family members and friends, and other supporters with information, resources, and solutions to issues affecting their lives. 
  • The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides mental health services at its medical centers and community-based outpatient clinics. All mental health care provided by VHA supports recovery, striving to enable people with mental health problems to live meaningful lives in their communities and achieve their full potential. For more information about VHA mental health services, visit the VA Mental Health website at
  • Families for Depression Awareness helps families recognize and cope with depression and bipolar disorder to get people well and prevent suicides. They offer education, training, and support to unite families and help them heal while coping with mood disorders. 
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness Family Support Group is a peer-led support group for family members, caregivers, and loved ones of individuals living with mental illness. You can gain insight from the challenges and successes of others facing similar circumstances.

2. Ask Questions

Chances are that your friend or loved one is not going to voluntarily give up the information that you need, because he or she is too ashamed of the symptoms and afraid they will be judged. You must dig for the root of the cause. With depression and anxiety, asking questions is crucial because each person’s experience is different. Here are a few questions to consider: 

  • When did you first start to feel bad? 
  • Can you think of anything that may have triggered it? 
  • Do you have suicidal thoughts? 
  • Is there anything that makes you feel better? 
  • What makes you feel worse? 
  • Are you under stress? 

3. Make Them Smile 

Laughter helps and heals; it has powerful physical and mental benefits. Although you can’t laugh off depression, one of the many benefits of laughter is that it acts as a buffer against the negatives of life that can lead to depression. According to a recent New York Times article, laughter may help relieve stress, reduce blood pressure, and help people become more resilient.  

This article from Psychology Today offers four strategies on how to use humor to manage stress. 

4. Remind Them of Their Strength’s 

It is common for depressed people to feel unworthy of love—another aspect that makes communication so difficult. One way of helping them to recover is by reminding them of their strengths. Bring up times in their lives when they showed courage, compassion, integrity, and perseverance. Boost their confidence by recalling specific accomplishments and encourage them down the path of healing.  

5. If You Do Only One Thing, Let It Be Listening 

One of the most basic and powerful ways to connect to another person is to listen and give them our attention—especially if it’s from the heart.  Suspend all judgments, open your ears, and just be the warmth that someone depressed and suicidal desperately needs.  Let your loved one know that they’re not alone and that you care. Don’t take responsibility, however, for healing your loved one. You can offer support, but you can’t make a suicidal person get better.  

Do anything you can to get a suicidal person the help they need. Encourage the person to see a mental health professional, help locate a treatment facility, or take them to a doctor’s appointment.  

Click here for a list of helpful veteran resources and support groups. 

If you’re a veteran in crisis or concerned about one, call the 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line at call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. It’s available to anyone, even if you’re not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care. 

You could be the one to save a life.

For more tips on suicide prevention, including understanding the warning signs and how to talk to a suicidal person, click here.  

Other tips on how to help someone with suicidal thoughts. 

Visit Know A Vet? for a list of resources for a wide range of issues and resources by zip code. Your local VSO can help connect you to other veteran or civilian organizations. To find your local VSO visit Know A Vet? and put your zip code in the box toward the top of the home page for your local Federal, State and County resources.  

Watch for future articles from Know A Vet? that will discuss non-traditional ways to handle anxiety.  

If this information would help someone you know, show them you are thinking of them by forwarding this email.  If you received this email from someone and would like to receive your own FREE newsletter click here to sign up.

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