Suicide intervention: Ways to provide help

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Sayani Banerjee
Sayani Banerjee

Suicide is defined as a deliberately initiated action where a person has a specific intention to cause his/her own death. It is the ultimate act of self-destruction.

Suicide intervention is the direct effort to prevent a person from intentionally taking his/her own life. Mental health professionals and some other health professionals receive training in the assessment and treatment of suicidality.

Some intervention techniques for suicide are as follows:

First aid for suicide ideation

Friends and family can provide supportive listening, empathy, and encouragement to develop a safety plan. If a person expresses warning signs of suicide emergency services should be contacted immediately.

A safety plan can include sources of support, self-soothing activities, reasons for living, safe people to call, and safe places to go. When a person is feeling distressed or overwhelmed with suicidal thoughts it can be helpful to refer back to the safety plan.

Mental health treatment and medication

During the acute phase admission to a psychiatric ward may be used in an attempt to ensure client safety. DSM-V axis I disorders particularly major depressive disorder and axis II disorder particularly borderline personality disorder increases the risk of suicide. Individuals with co-occurring mental illnesses along with substance abuse disorder are at an increased risk of suicide compared to people with only one of the two disorders. While antidepressants may not directly reduce the risk of suicide in adults but they are effective in treating major depressive disorder. There is evidence that long-term lithium therapy can reduce the risk of suicide in adults with bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or shock therapy rapidly decreases suicidal thinking.

Suicide prevent

It refers to the effort to reduce the risk of suicide. Suicide is often preventable. Methods to prevent suicide include

  • Treating mental illness
  • Improving coping strategy
  • Reducing risk factors for suicide such as poverty or social vulnerability
  • Giving people hope for a better life
  • Calling suicide hotline numbers

Lethal means reduction

It is also known as "means restriction" which refers to reducing the odds that a suicide attempter will use highly lethal means. There is evidence that restricted access to so-called suicide hotspots reduces the risk of suicide.

Crisis hotline numbers

It connects a person in distress with either a volunteer or a staff member. This occurs via telephone, text messaging, online chat, or in person.

Social intervention

Various social suicide prevention efforts are:

  • Promoting community-based suicide prevention programs
  • Education about suicide including risk factors, warning signs, stigma-related issues, and availability of help through social campaigns
  • Reducing domestic violence and substance abuse through legal and empowerment means are long-term strategies
  • School-based competency-promoting and skill-enhancement programs
  • Research on protective factors and development of effective clinical and professional practices

Media influence

Recommendations around media reporting of suicide include not sensationalizing the event or attributing it to a single cause. It is also recommended that media messages have suicide prevention messages such as stories of hope and links to further resources.


There are multiple talk therapies that reduce suicidal thoughts and behaviors including dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Cognitive behavior therapy for suicide prevention (CBT-SP) is a form of DBT adapted for adolescents at high risk for repeated suicide attempts. The brief intervention and contact technique developed by the World health organization has also shown benefits.

Coping planning

Coping planning is a strength-based intervention that aims to meet the needs of people who ask for help including those experiencing suicidal ideation. By planning for coping, it supports people who are distressed and provides a sense of belongingness and resilience in the treatment of illness.


Suicide prevention strategies focus on reducing the risk factors. Some of the specific strategies are:

  • Crisis intervention
  • Structured counseling and psychotherapy
  • Person-centered life skills training, for example, problem-solving
  • Therapeutic recreational therapy that improves mood
  • Promoting self-care activities like physical exercise, meditation, and relaxation

After a suicide

Postvention is for people affected by an individual's suicide. This intervention facilitates grieving, reduces guilt, anxiety, and depression, and decreases the effects of trauma. Postvention is also provided to minimize the risk of imitative or copycat suicides.

Read more on: Counseling Psychology


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