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Suicide prevention begins one-on-one

Posted on Monday, August 18, 2014 at 4:20 pm


Executive director,

tennessee suicide prevention network


The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network wishes to offer its condolences regarding the death of Robin Williams on Aug. 11.

Mr. Williams was a beloved public figure, and his passing has triggered an outpouring of grief nationally and wall-to-wall coverage in print, television, and social media — not all of it positive or helpful.

It should be noted that what happened to Mr. Williams happens to over 900 people in Tennessee each year to people of both sexes, all races, every socioeconomic class, any city or neighborhood. The methods and circumstances may vary, but the effects are typically the same. A family is broken apart, friends and colleagues are left unsure of what to do or say next, and entire communities may be left with lingering emotional scars.

We know that there are people out there who were already in a vulnerable place who may be further affected by Mr. Williams’ death and the aftermath. The number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK, or 8255) is being promoted to an unprecedented degree in the wake of this tragedy, but there are things that people who are not counselors or first responders can do to help others who may be considering suicide.

Preventing suicide in our communities starts at the most basic level — individual people at risk. So it’s important to know what to do, and what not to do, when someone you know starts to display warning signs.

The following behavioral patterns may indicate possible risk for suicide and should be watched closely, especially if several of them are present: talking about suicide, death, and/or no reason to live (even if framed as a joke); preoccupation with death and dying; withdrawal from friends and/or social activities; experience of a recent severe loss (especially a relationship) or the threat of a significant loss; experience or fear of a situation of humiliation of failure; drastic changes in behavior; loss of interest in hobbies, work, school, etc. ; preparation for death by making out a will (unexpectedly) and final arrangements; giving away prized possessions; previous history of suicide attempts, as well as violence and/or hostility; unnecessary risks; reckless and/or impulsive behavior; loss of interest in personal appearance; increased use of alcohol and/or drugs; general hopelessness; recent experience in humiliation or failure; or unwillingness to connect with potential helpers.

What you should do: Take the risk factors and signals seriously. If you think someone is considering suicide, ask him or her, “Are you suicidal?” or “Do you want to kill yourself?” If the answer is “yes,” get help. Show interest in the person and be supportive of him or her. Offer hope that there are alternatives to suicide. Take action. Remove methods the person might use to kill him or herself. Seek help from family, a friend, a physician, clergy, etc.; immediately contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 911.

What you should avoid: Avoid acting shocked or lecturing the person on the value of life. Avoid taunting or daring him or her to “do it”. Avoid judging. Allow him or her to express his or her thoughts or feelings. Avoid debates over whether suicide is right or wrong. Avoid offering easy reassurance – it may make the person feel as if you really don’t understand or care about him or her. Don’t keep another person’s suicidal thoughts — or your own — a secret. Saving a life is more important than keeping a promise.

For those interested in learning more about suicide prevention (including free courses led by TSPN staff and members), contact the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network at (615) 297-1077 or tspn@tspn.org.