There is a brave young woman on my staff named Liz. Liz volunteers her free time to giving presentations to middle and high school students on mental health. During her presentations, Liz describes a time when she had to tell a college counselor that her friend was suicidal. She worried her friend would be angry, but she knew he needed help.

Liz teaches young people what we should all be doing: helping those in need. If you notice any sign that a person is struggling, you can make a difference.

If someone is talking about feeling hopeless, having no purpose, feeling trapped or being a burden to others, using alcohol and drugs more frequently, acting recklessly, sleeping too little or too much, isolating themselves or experiencing extreme mood swings, don’t just ignore these signs. Acknowledge them and take action.

Doing more

The fact is that we could all do more to help prevent suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. overall and the second leading cause for those aged 15–24. It is a public health issue that needs to be addressed. No group of people is exempt, and the rate is rising for all ages.

There are far too many struggling in silence; far too many not receiving the supports and services they need; and far too many who think they’re alone. Like other public health issues, suicide can be prevented—and it starts with reaching out to those experiencing suicidal thoughts.

It’s okay to ask someone if they are having thoughts about suicide. Many people believe it will put the idea into their head, but that is a myth. We cannot allow myths to create silence when what we need are conversations. You can make a difference to someone struggling by asking directly about suicide and showing support, kindness and understanding in your response. And if the person needs it, encourage and help them to seek treatment. 

“We cannot allow myths to create silence when what we need are conversations.”

Speaking out

When someone is experiencing a crisis, it’s essential to stay with them and offer to call his or her mental health professional or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to get immediate attention. Being open and understanding can help our loved ones feel better, and connecting them to professional help can save their lives.

A few weeks after one of Liz’s presentations, she got a call with some powerful feedback. Because of Liz’s story, a young girl had the courage to speak up and let her counselor know that her friend was having suicidal thoughts. She told the counselor, “I know my friend might be mad at me, but Liz said that will be okay, because I’m acting to save a life.”

Just like this young girl, let’s all follow Liz’s example and end the silence because it’s important to have conversations and make a difference.

If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or 911 immediately.