In recognition of National Suicide Prevention Month, we did a Q&A with our Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Center program staff to learn more about suicide, suicide prevention, and ways you can support someone who may be at risk.
What causes someone to develop suicidal thoughts? Can it happen at any age?
First and foremost, having thoughts of suicide is normal when a person is in the midst of a crisis. That being said, there is no one cause for a person’s suicidal ideation. Each person may have their own unique reasons for thinking about suicide.
Often, when we’re in crisis the part of our brain that helps us think logically stops working so well. It becomes harder and harder to think about how we can manage the challenges in front of us. At that point, suicide starts to feel more and more like an option. This can happen to anyone at any time.
Two themes that are particularly present with folks who call the StarVista Crisis Hotline and engage in our chat services are loss and pain. Loss can be a huge change in a person’s life whether it is a job, relationship, or the death of someone significant. Pain, either physical or emotional, can be debilitating. Either of these themes can be a catalyst for crisis in someone’s life.
What are the signs of suicidal ideation/if someone is suicidal?
Suicidal ideation and suicidal intent are two separate things. A person can have suicidal ideation with no intent to act on their thoughts. Suicidal ideation may or may not have outward signs. According to Know The Signs, someone who has suicidal intent may exhibit signs such as talking about wanting to die, feeling hopeless or trapped, looking up ways to kill themselves, and giving away possessions. However, we must be careful not to stigmatize those with suicidal ideation, as there are many people who live with ideation for years without attempting.
The signs of suicide can sometimes be difficult to identify. Remember that you know your loved ones best and keep an eye out for marked changes in mood and behavior. If you have seen significant changes in their mood and behavior that concern you, it may be a good idea to check in on that person privately. It could something look like, “I’ve noticed you don’t really hang around your friends anymore and you seem a bit down lately, and I am concerned about you. Can we talk about it?”
Ideation should not be treated the same as someone with suicidal intent, but both should be taken seriously and given appropriate support.
How can you help someone who may be facing suicidal thoughts? What should you not do?
The most important thing to do if you think someone may be dealing with thoughts of suicide is to ask that person in a direct way if they are thinking about killing themselves. This opens a pathway of connection and communication for this person, who may have been suffering in silence for a long time.
You shouldn’t be afraid to ask; it’s a common misconception that bringing up suicide will “plant” the idea in that person’s mind.
The conversation may feel uncomfortable and awkward, but it is vital to try to understand what is really happening for the other person. You can read more about how to support someone who is considering suicide on onyourmind.net.
If you think that someone is feeling suicidal, it’s important to ask in a non-judgmental way if they’re thinking about suicide. Example of a “non-judgmental” question: “I am really worried about you. Are you thinking about suicide?” Example of a “judgmental” question: “You’re not thinking about suicide are you?” or “You wouldn’t do something stupid like suicide right?” If that person is not suicidal, they will tell you and they now know that you are a safe person to go to if they become suicidal at any point. If that person is suicidal, now is the time to put your “listener” hat on and ask them what brought them to this point, “I am so sorry you’re experiencing this. Can you tell me more about what’s been going on?” Our goal is not to “fix” their problems or to make their problems feel less challenging, rather, the goal is to make that person feel less alone in facing those challenges.
If you feel unprepared to have this conversation or worry that you will not be able to help this person stay safe, call the crisis hotline at (650) 579-0350! We can walk you through how best to support someone at-risk, and or talk to the person you’re worried about directly.
What is the Crisis Center and what services do you provide? Who can utilize your services?
The Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Center is a program of StarVista that has been a resource to those in need since 1966. The Crisis Center provides life-saving services to the community. Those services include:
24-hour Crisis Hotline: Our hotline is operated by staff and volunteers who go through extensive training to meet our callers where they are at and support them in their times of need. Anyone (with a phone) may access this service by calling (650) 579-0350. One big misconception about this service is that you must be suicidal to call- that is not the case. Most of our callers use our line when they are going through life changes (like breakups, job loss, etc) or are experiencing some sort of mental health challenge (ex. extra stress from finals, grief from losing a loved one, etc).
Onyourmind: Onyourmind.net hosts the crisis center’s teen-focused crisis chat platform. The teen chat service can be accessed on the website Monday-Thursdays from 4:30-9:30pm and is staffed by highly trained peer counselors, who are supervised by Crisis Center staff. While the website is best known for our teen chat service, it has grown into much more. One can find blogs about youth mental health, answers to frequently asked questions, and updated statistics on the impact of mental health and suicide for teens and young adults. You can find Onyourmind on Instagram at @onyourmindsv!
To see the full list of services StarVista’s Crisis Center provides, click here.
Have suicide ideation/thoughts for your clients increased since COVID-19?
Our crisis line and chat services are experiencing an overall increase in call/chat volume. People are very concerned about what impacts COVID-19 will have on their lives. COVID-19 has created an eruption of loss and pain within our communities. People have lost jobs, loved ones, connection with others, and even the ability to go outside. Folks have been experiencing an increase in mental health challenges to this as well. The presence of intense pain and loss, like we are feeling with COVID, can increase the likelihood that someone may be thinking about suicide.
What can people do to promote suicide prevention in their community?
Everyone can do something to help promote suicide prevention. There is a vast amount of stigma when we talk or even mention the word suicide. To help break down those misconceptions it is important to learn about the facts of suicide, warning signs of suicidal ideations/behaviors, and possible risk factors. Other ways of promoting suicide prevention include knowing the different resources like text lines, hotline, chat services, and counseling centers that can provide crisis support. Conversations are critical too.
The more we talk about suicide in the communities we identify with, the safer environment we create for individuals to open up and seek support.
San Mateo County Suicide Prevention Event Calendar
StarVista’s Crisis Center Suicide Prevention Workshop for Food Service Workers
Suicide: The Ripple Effect Film and Discussion
Become a Health Ambassador and Join Our Winter HAP-Y Cohort!
StarVista Crisis Center Blog Contributors:
Allie Rogge, Volunteer Coordinator
Karina Chapa, Training Specialist
Brook Pollard, Mental Health Clinician
Vero Polanco, Youth Outreach Coordinator