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COVID-19 is Not Only a Physical Health Threat, but an Emotional One: 5 Action Steps to Save a Life

By Colleen Kelly posted 04-06-2020 10:40


These are very difficult times for everyone, especially for those of you working in “essential services”. Many of you are still going into your credit unions, which may be really frightening.  You may be concerned that you will contract the Coronavirus or bring it home to your loved ones. Many of you may have family and friends who are anxious and isolated.  I volunteer on the National Suicide Lifeline, and tragically lost a credit union friend to suicide a couple of weeks ago, which is why I am taking a break from the COVID-19 compliance issues this morning to reach out to everyone who might be struggling, or know someone who is.

Suicide remains a taboo subject in our society – an uncomfortable conversation most people avoid. Yet suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among 15-34 year olds, and the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.  Over 10.6 million people have suicidal thoughts each year.  

Suicide prevention is everyone’s business. You can #BeThe1To help a friend, loved one, or coworker. Everyone can learn these 5 action steps to help save a life.  

  1. ASK: Ask the question “Are you thinking about suicide?”. This communicates that you’re open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way. Asking in this direct, unbiased manner, can open the door for effective dialogue about their emotional pain and can allow everyone involved to see what next steps need to be taken. Other questions you can ask include, “How do you hurt?” and “How can I help?” There is absolutely no evidence to support the theory that asking about suicide puts the thought in someone’s mind.
  2. KEEP THEM SAFE: After the “Ask” step, and you’ve determined that suicide is on their mind, it’s important to find out a few things to establish immediate safety:
    • Have they already done anything to try to kill themselves in the past?
    • Does the person have a specific, detailed plan on how they would kill themselves?
    • What’s the timing for their plan?
    • What sort of access do they have to the lethal means they are planning to use (ie: pills, gun)?
  3. BE THERE: This could mean being physically present for someone, speaking with them on the phone when you can, or any other way that shows support for the person at risk. An important aspect of this step is to make sure you follow through with the ways in which you say you’ll be able to support the person – do not commit to anything you are not willing or able to accomplish. If you are unable to be physically present with someone with thoughts of suicide, talk with them to develop some ideas for others who might be able to help as well (again, only others who are willing, able, and appropriate to be there)
  4. HELP THEM CONNECT: Help them connect with ongoing supports (like the National Suicide Lifeline, 800-273-8255). This can help them establish a safety net for those moments they find themselves in a crisis. (This is also a good resource for people who want to help a suicidal loved one – they can help coach you through these steps). Additional components of a safety net might be connecting them with supports and resources in their communities.
  5. FOLLOW UP: After your initial contact with a person experiencing thoughts of suicide, and after you’ve connected them with the immediate support systems they need, make sure to follow-up with them to see how they’re doing. Leave a message, send a text, or give them a call.