suicide is a topic many people would rather avoid. But as a society we need to be me comfortable with, or at least willing to, discuss it.

Why suicide can no longer be ignored:

Mental illness is very prevalent in the United States. In fact, in 2014 an estimated 18.1 percent of American adults were living with some form of mental illness. That’s around 43.6 million adults.

I recently had a friend, who will remain anonymous for confidentiality reasons, disclose to me that they were struggling with suicidal thoughts and had a plan to kill themselves.

In that moment I realized anyone could find themselves in the position I was put in, and most people - like myself at the time - would probably not know how to respond appropriately.

It's unfortunate that the most common thing I hear in regard to suicide prevention is that if a person truly wants to commit suicide there’s simply nothing you can do to stop them. This is so completely false. When a person is feeling suicidal, they often don’t actually want to die. They just can’t see any other solution to end the suicidal thoughts and emotional anguish they are experiencing. This is why it’s so important to not only know how to respond to someone disclosing their struggle with suicidal thoughts to you, but to also know how to guide them to the help that’s readily available.

Here are a few steps if you ever find yourself needing to help someone struggling with suicide.

Let them know the are not alone and that they are not the only ones who feel this way

In reality about 30,000 Americans commit suicide every year; it is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds, and second leading cause of death for 24-35 year olds.

In a 2008 study 3.7 percent of adults reported they had thought about suicide, one percent had made plans to commit suicide, and 0.5 percent had actually attempted suicide. Unfortunately, feeling suicidal is not a rare or uncommon state of mind to be experiencing. Yet, struggling with and contemplating suicide can leave one in an extremely alienating position.

It’s hard to be surrounded by living people when you yourself don’t want to be alive any longer. Feelings of failure, hopelessness, helplessness, and inadequacy are common, but they aren’t the truth. Validate their feelings - do not simply dismiss them; but, remind them that feelings are not facts and that they can - and will - change.

Encourage them to seek help and support from family and friends

As an individual, there is, of course, only so much you can do to help someone who is struggling by yourself. Particularly if you don’t see this person every day encourage them to reach out to people who do. Family can be especially helpful during this time as they likely know the individual better than anyone else and can be around when needed.

Having the support of close friends can also be life saving, particularly if depending on family for help isn’t a realistic option. A strong support network of friends who can check up on the person, or spend some quality time with them, could prevent them from making the decision to take their own life. Sometimes our friends are the ones who make life worth living.

Walk them through a Crisis Plan or a Plan of Life

A Crisis Plan, also known as a Plan of Life, includes the individual's information, their doctor’s information, and their preferred hospital’s information. It also provides support information specific to the individual such as their triggers, warning signs, and things people should and shouldn’t say or do when the individual is in crisis.

These plans can also include personal reasons about why life is worth living to the individual to remind them why they want to live when they’re feeling like they don’t want to at all. A template for a Crisis Plan can be found on the DBSA website.

Provide them with emergency numbers and locations

A quick google search will give you a number of suicide prevention hotlines to call, one of which is the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255). If the individual has disclosed that they currently have a plan to commit suicide, the best action to take is to call the police or immediately take them to the hospital. On the scale of seriousness, having a plan to commit suicide heavily out weighs just having suicidal thoughts.

Take the mentioning of a plan seriously and do everything you can to get the person immediate help.

Encourage them to book an appointment with a psychiatrist or therapist

If someone came to you and told you they were feeling illl, you would probably suggest they see their doctor. It’s no different with suicidal thoughts. Suicide is a symptom of mental illness. Medical professionals and licensed councilors are trained to handle this and other problematic symptoms and would be able to come up with a treatment plan best suited to help and meet the needs of that particular individual. Assure them that seeing a mental health professional is no different than seeing their family doctor. Both just want them to be in a safe and healthy place.

Check back in with them to see how they are doing

You may have been this person's first cry for help, and a second cry doesn’t always happen. Do not pretend as if they never came to you in the first place. Check back in, ask how they are feeling, and listen to what they have to say. If they haven’t sought out other forms of help encourage them to do so again.

Being familiar with suicide and becoming comfortable with speaking to someone who is suicidal is an important life skill. Take it seriously and you just might save a life.