National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,
Call 1-800-273-8255
Available 24 hours every day

Depression/Suicide Intervention

John Brunelle, Ph.D., Student Counseling Center, Davidson College

Warning Signs:

  • Changes in Appearance – disheveled, lack of hygiene, worn/tattered clothing, monotonous facial expressions
  • Changes in Behavior – no longer doing/enjoying usual activities; hyperactivity; social withdrawal; extravagant spending; overzealous social activity
  • Changes in Personality – sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, apathetic, indecisive; diminished concentration and attention
  • Changes in Sleep Patterns and Eating Habits – insomnia, hypersomnia, early or late rising; loss or gain of appetite, drastic change in diet
  • Statements of…hopelessness, worthlessness, helplessness, meaninglessness, low self-esteem
  • Recent Loss – death, divorce, relationship, job, money, status

Interventions:

  • Listen Actively to what the person is saying to you – restate and reflect content and emotion. Remain calm and validate what they are feeling without judgment.
  • Ask the person – “Are you thinking of suicide?”
    Ask them if they have a plan and if they have the means. Asking someone if they are suicidal will NOT make them suicidal. Most likely they will be relieved you asked.  
  • Reassure the person that there is help for his/her problem, but do not talk them out of feeling the way they are. And reassure them that they are NOT “crazy” or “bad” because they are thinking of suicide.  
  • Help the person break down the problem into more manageable pieces. It is easier to deal with one problem at a time. Help them explore other ways to solve their problems.
  • Do not agree to keep the person’s suicidal thoughts a secret – Helping someone who is suicidal is very stressful and should never be done alone. Make it clear to the person that you may need to incorporate the help of others.
  • Make a referral to counseling services – Stay with the person until an appropriate referral is made.

Taking Care of Yourself:

  • Be selfish – Airplane Metaphor (Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others put theirs on.)
  • Know and work on your own stuff
  • Don’t be a martyr…Don’t be a superhero…Don’t be a therapist

Typical Emotional Reactions to Watch Out For:

  • Fear and Anxiety
  • Overwhelming Responsibility
  • Feelings of Inadequacy/Incompetence
  • Could trigger your own lingering issues
  • Could trigger generalized/existential feelings
  • Distractability/mania/insomnia/loss of appetite

Helpful Links:

QPR Institute – Question. Persuade. Refer. 

Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST)