Healthy Tahoe: Your role in suicide prevention

Tracy Protell, MD

Suicide is a leading cause of death, and it is reponsible for one death every 11 minutes in the U.S. Though widespread, suicide is preventable, and individually we can prepare ourselves to help support those who may be at risk.

Tracy Protell

Know the signs

Pain isn’t always obvious, but most suicidal people show signs they are thinking about suicide. The signs may appear in conversations, through their actions or in their social media posts. There is a range of signs, but if any of these critical signs are present, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255:

●Talking about death or suicide

●Seeking methods for self harm, such as searching online or obtaining a gun

●Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live

●Substance use or reckless behavior in someone depressed

Find the words

“Are you thinking of hurting or killing yourself?” Few phrases are as difficult to say, but when it comes to suicide prevention, none are more important.

Before starting a conversation with someone you are concerned about, practice your conversation and be prepared with a list of crisis resources. Have the conversation when you won’t be in a hurry and can spend time with the person.

A few examples of what not to say include, “You’re not thinking about suicide, are you?” or, “You’re not thinking about doing something stupid, are you?” Avoid questions which indicate you want “No” for an answer.

Listen to the reasons the person shares for both living and dying. Validate that they are considering both options and underscore that living is an option for them. An example may sound like, “I can imagine how tough this must be for you. I understand when you say that you aren’t sure if you want to live or die. There’s a chance you won’t feel this way forever. I can help.”

Ask the person if they have a plan for how they would kill themselves. Ask if they have access to any lethal means (weapons, medications, etc.) and help remove them. You may need assistance from another friend, family member or law enforcement. Do not put yourself in danger; if you are concerned about your safety, call 911.

Provide the person with the resources you prepared, “I understand it can feel awkward to talk to anyone about this, but there is a number we can call to talk to somebody, and they are there to help.”

If you feel the situation is critical, take the person to an emergency room or call 911.

Reach out

You’re not alone in helping someone. Crisis lines are available to you and the person experiencing the crisis. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) is free and available 24-hours a day to anyone in emotional distress, or if you are concerned about someone else.

Suicide prevention is everyone’s concern – learn the warning signs and how to get help.

Dr. Tracy Protell is a pediatric psychiatrist with Barton Psychiatry. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. We all benefit from honest conversations about mental health conditions and suicide, because just one conversation can change a life. For more information, or for a list of area resources and crisis lines, visit

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