When a family member, friend, partner, coworker, or even a stranger is struggling with a mental health crisis, it can be difficult to know how to help. Simply asking your friends, "Are you OK?" can make a huge difference to someone who may be struggling to articulate what they're feeling, or struggle to reach out for help themselves. Many of us also direct people who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts to hotlines and other crisis intervention services, which offer support and hope to thousands of people. But when suicide is a major feature in the news cycle, it can increase the strain on these services, which means that they could really use the extra support.
One of the most important ways to help these organizations involves becoming active in your community, and offering your support to those around you who may be struggling. "Everybody has a role to play in preventing suicide, and the [National Suicide Prevention Lifeline] has lots of ways you can take part," the organization explained on its website. "With your help, we can spread awareness about suicide prevention and mental health, and save lives."
The Lifeline outlines five actionable steps you can take as part of its #BeThe1To program, and you can access all of the information on their website. One of the first steps is engaging the person who needs help in conversation. "Research shows people who are having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks after them in a caring way," the program noted. "Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce suicidal ideation." If you want to get more involved, here are some more ways you can support suicide hotlines and other crisis intervention services.
1Take A Mental Health First Aid Training Course
During Mental Health Awareness Month in May, Cynthia Germanotta, Lady Gaga's mom, spoke with Bustle about the importance of getting trained in mental health first aid so you can prepare yourself to assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis. You can find a training course near you on Mental Health First Aid USA's website, and the training is free.
"Mental health first aid provides the fundamental skills you need to help a friend, family member, peer, coworker, or even stranger experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis," Germanotta told Bustle in May. The eight-hour course teaches you "how to help someone who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge. The training helps you identify, understand and respond to signs of addictions and mental illnesses," Mental Health First Aid USA said on its website. You can also take a mental health first aid training course through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
2Volunteer For A Suicide Prevention Hotline
Most suicide prevention and crisis intervention hotlines are staffed by volunteers who are trained to actively help someone experiencing a mental health crisis. If you want to get involved, you can volunteer for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Crisis Text Line, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or other hotlines in your area. When you sign up to volunteer you'll likely be connected with, and trained by, a local chapter that needs your help.
3Educate Yourself About How To Offer Help
If you want to do something today, there is information available online to help you educate yourself about how to best help a person in crisis. You can download a crisis guide from NAMI. "Navigating a Mental Health Crisis: A NAMI Resource Guide for Those Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency (Crisis Guide) provides important, potentially life-saving information for people experiencing mental health crises and their loved ones," NAMI explained on its website. "This guide outlines what can contribute to a crisis, warning signs that a crisis is emerging, strategies to help de-escalate a crisis, available resources and so much more."
Additionally, access the five-step action plan from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which can prepare you to provide support. The plan includes engaging the person who needs help in conversation, taking steps to keep them safe, actively providing support, helping them access mental-health resources, and following up with them afterward.
4Donate To Suicide Prevention Organizations
The majority of suicide prevention hotlines are staffed by volunteers, and they rely on donations to keep their doors open. With news that the Minnesota Suicide Crisis Hotline will close down to a funding shortfall, donating to your local suicide prevention organization can help ensure this vital resource remains available for those who need it.
5Volunteer At A Local Suicide Prevention Office
If you want to help, but you're not comfortable talking someone through a crisis, suicide prevention organizations often need other kinds of volunteer help. For example, The Trevor Projects lists volunteer opportunities on its website that include administrative tasks like preparing mailers, community engagement and advocacy volunteer opportunities, and event volunteers. You can reach out to your local crisis center and see if they need this kind of support, or other kinds of volunteer help within your skill set.
6Become A Suicide-Prevention Advocate
Want to raise awareness and help initiate change? Consider volunteering to be a field advocate for suicide prevention through the National Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Field advocates work to build relationships with members of Congress and state legislators to prevent suicide. "As a field advocate, you will receive several emails a month from your AFSP Public Policy Team in Washington, D.C. — updates on the latest policy news and events, and action alerts so you can know when and how to take action on the policy issues you care about," the AFSP explained on its website.
7Join Events & Walks For Suicide Prevention
If you want to raise awareness by doing something you already do every day — walking — consider joining the American Society for Suicide Prevention for a walk to prevent suicide. Like other walks that raise money and awareness for a cause, you can seek pledges to support your effort which in turn raises money to support the AFSP. If you aren't able to participate in a walk, you can also find other events near you that need your help.
8Make Your Purchases Count
If you can't afford to make a donation, but you shop for everyday goods on Amazon, sign up for Amazon Smile where you can choose an organization to receive a donation every time you make a purchase. This way the items you're already adding to your cart can help support suicide crisis intervention and prevention.
If you feel overwhelmed and helpless, that's perfectly normal. But, please remember that there is always a way to provide help and support. Whether it's being an active listener, or raising awareness, each person has the power to make a difference. Sometimes the most important thing you can do is lend an ear.
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.