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Be the One to Save a Life

Be the One to Save a Life

A call to action from the National
Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Imagine you’re on a pleasant, afternoon walk around your neighborhood. The sun is shining, but it’s not too hot; there’s a gentle breeze lifting any humidity off your skin, keeping you cool. You can smell freshly cut grass. You’re about ten minutes away from home and you walk this route almost every day. You originally chose this route because it takes you by a beautiful municipal garden near an overpass over a busy highway. Today, you’re looking forward to walking through the garden and seeing what new blooms will show themselves. However, as you near the garden and you can see the overpass in the distance, something strikes you as odd on this particular day. There’s a man, maybe in his early 20’s, standing and pacing on the overpass and looking distressed. What do you do?

Some of your first thoughts might be, “Well, I’m not qualified to speak with someone in imminent emotional crisis. I’m not a mental health professional,” or “What if that person is thinking about suicide, what should I do?” Or maybe you think, “I have to help him, now! I should call the police!”

Let’s take a look at each of these reactions inside the framework of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s #BeThe1To 5-steps to Save a Life. The Lifeline initially launched the widely successful campaign in 2016 to recognize that year’s National Suicide Prevention Month and provide people with concrete, actionable tools. For 2017, the campaign has established partnerships with over 30 suicide prevention and mental health organizations across the country and will host Facebook Live and Twitter chats throughout the month of September. 
But… back to the man on the overpass. 

First of all, one of the core components of #BeThe1To is everyone can take action to prevent suicide. If you know the steps, can listen to a person’s pain, and help to safely and effectively intervene, it’s not necessary to be a mental health professional, medical professional, or clinician. Take a look at the steps and you’ll see their usefulness for both loved ones and acquaintances alike:

Ask –  “Are you thinking about suicide” directly and nonjudgmentally. This allows a safe space to talk about the person’s emotions and pain with them. It will not put the idea of suicide into their mind. 

Keep Them Safe – quickly assess their plan; do they have a method or timeline? Have they done anything already to try and kill themselves? Work with them to find ways to eliminate their plan, separating them from anything harmful or seek immediate medical attention if absolutely necessary. 

Be There – this step is fairly straightforward – find out what they need in the moment. Don’t leave them alone. Listen to them and sit with them in their emotional pain. 

Help Them Connect – work with the person in the moment to find some additional supports or people they can reach out to (family, friends, therapists) – let them tell you who these people are. Always feel free to call the Lifeline with them in the moment.

Follow-Up – check in on them the next day. See how they’re doing. Ask what else you can do to help. 

So as you get closer to the overpass, you notice this man is trembling. He’s also crying. Standing about ten feet away, you offer him your name and he tells you his – its Terry. You ask, “What’s going on,” and he fills you in on some of his current emotional pain – he’s fighting to pay medical bills, he’s been on disability for 8 months after an accident at work, his girlfriend is threatening to leave with their young daughter. “That’s a lot,” you say. “Some people who are dealing with a lot those things all at once can feel really hopeless. Terry, are you thinking about suicide?” His face lifts to meet your compassionate eyes and he just nods, tears streaming down his cheeks. Now you’ve opened the door to possible hope for Terry. He tells you more about what’s going on after you establish his plan is to jump from the overpass and as you walk to a nearby bench, away from danger. After about 20 mins, he agrees to call his girlfriend and have her come pick him up. You’ve also given him the number for the Lifeline and a few other local resources you’re familiar with and you’ve given him your cell number. He’ll call you tomorrow to let you know how things are going. After a few more minutes of him talking about his daughter, the way she’s just learning to hold her drinking cups and blowing raspberries, his girlfriend arrives and they leave. You take some deep, solid breaths, and walk over to the garden to enjoy the new blooms. 

Obviously, this is an ideal, best-case scenario. But these sort of person-to-person interventions happen all the time. And it didn’t take a mental health professional to keep Terry safe. All it took was for you to ask, keep him safe, be there for him, help him connect with his supports, and offer to follow up. These are all things every human is fully capable of doing. And if, for some reason, you’re not willing or able to help out with one of these steps (because it can be tough!), you can always call the Lifeline for some real-time guidance. 

While we can all #BeThe1To prevent suicide, the crisis call centers in the Lifeline network (of which there are over 150 regional and local centers across the country) help to answer those calls. And those calls are increasing. If you’re involved with a crisis center and would like to explore enhancing the capacity of the network by joining the Lifeline, email lifelineinfo@mhaofnyc.org.

But hopefully, after spending some time on bethe1to.com, you’ll feel more comfortable and prepared to help save a life if the circumstance ever presents itself. One of the first places to start is the Resources page, covering warning signs and risk factors, making a safety plan, evidence backing the 5-steps, and general suicide prevention information. One of the amazing pieces of this campaign is the ability to easily access and share digital images for the 5-steps and spread them around your social media networks, increasing awareness and capability of your friends. And if you or your organization want to customize your own images to better represent your local community or your audience, you can now do that as well. 

Every day, hope, healing, and help are happening. The #BeThe1To campaign can spread this message and potentially bring solace and confidence to many in moments of crisis. Now go on that walk and maybe save a life while you’re at it. 

The views, information and opinions expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Accreditation (COA). COA invites guest authors to contribute to the COA blog due to COA's confidence in their knowledge on the subject matter and their expertise in their chosen field. 

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