Make an Impact within Your Family
It just takes one person to start the conversation. That person can be you.
Everyone has mental health, and that looks different for everybody. Families are diverse, and each member has their own unique experience at any given time. Celebrating differences, making space for one another, listening openly, resolving conflicts, and not being afraid to make mistakes are key pieces in the foundation for suicide prevention as a family mindset.
You can help prevent suicide as a family member.
Create a Family Supportive of Mental Health
In Your Daily Life
Self-awareness helps you stay present through the ups and downs, and it teaches you how to support yourself and others. You matter, and treating yourself like you matter benefits the whole family.
Build self-awareness with these questions through journaling, meditation, or talking with a trained professional:
- What’s my role in this family?
- How do I come across? What are my triggers?
- What are my core beliefs?
- What do I value?
- How do I show and receive love?
- What do I need to feel supported? How do I typically support others?
Take Care of Yourself
Taking care of your wellbeing benefits everyone in the family. Here some ways to get started:
- Rest – a good mix of rest and activity
- Do things you truly enjoy
- Share your feelings
- Set boundaries
- Fuel your body
- Use positive self-talk
- Practice gratitude
- Use healthy coping skills during difficult times
Check In with Everyone Regularly
You can’t know what someone’s going through until you check in. Even when everything looks fine, checking in regularly lets people you know you care.
Focus on the person and move a step beyond the typical
- You ask: "How's it going?"
- They say: "Good. How are you?"
- You say: "Good."
- (End of conversation.)
Ask about something you know is going on, an important event or relationship, or how they're reacting to something in the world or your family.
In Your Interactions
Life is filled with ups and downs. That’s part of being human. Sharing the ups and the downs is part of true connection. Have the courage to show who you really are and allow others to do the same. This can mean:
- sharing your dreams as well as your struggles
- working through uncomfortable conversations
- recognizing when someone’s vulnerable with you
- thanking others for their vulnerability
Vulnerability builds a deeper connection, and connection is a key piece of mental health.
Have Fun Together
It doesn't have to be so serious all the time. Play with your family. Try things they enjoy and have them try things you enjoy. When you have fun, you release endorphins, create memories, and bond.
Having fun doesn't have to be expensive or complicated. You don't need to go on the ultimate vacation (though it could be fun and probably a little stressful), you just need yourselves. From playing a card game and charades to having an impromptu dance party in your kitchen, you can make most anything an opportunity for laughter.
Each member of your family matters, and each of them is meant to be different. You might have expectations for what someone should be doing or be like, but that might not be what’s best for them, the family, or even you. Families function best when everyone is encouraged to be their best and truest selves.
- Think of one of your family members.
- What's something that you look up to in them? Something that makes you laugh? Something that makes you proud? Something about them that inspires you?
- What's something they do that makes you feel loved?
- Now think about these questions for each member of your family.
Suicide Signs and Risk Factors to Watch For
- Self-isolation (withdrawing from family, friends, and regular activities)
- Increase in alcohol or drug use
- A change in online presence (websites they’re going to, what they’re posting, what they’re reading and talking about, how frequently they’re posting)
- Sudden, significant drop in grades or performance at work
- Dramatic change in appearance and behavior
- Language, research, books you’re reading, projects around themes of helplessness, hopelessness, death, being a burden
- Giving away important possessions
- Abrupt or dramatic change in mood
- Talking about suicide
Any direct reference to mental health struggles. Here’s what you might hear:
- I just want to die.
- I just can't do this anymore.
- I'm such a burden.
- Life isn't worth anything.
- I won't be around to deal with that.
- If he/she breaks up with me, I can't/won't go on.
- There is nothing I can do to make it better.
- My family would be better off without me.
- I feel there is no way out.
- It's hopeless/pointless/useless.
- I have no reason to live.
It can be hard for people to come out and talk about mental health struggles or thoughts of suicide. Here’s what you might hear instead:
- I’m having a hard time
- I have a lot on my plate right now
- I can't stand the pressure anymore.
- What's the point/it’s pointless
- I’m feeling really overwhelmed
- I wish I could just get a break from it all/just go to sleep forever/run away
- “I should just kill myself,” said in a joking tone
Any of these expressions/phrases need to be followed up on. Here's how:
How To CARE
Use these steps any time you want to check in with a family member or when you notice something concerning.
It’s always a good idea to check in. Do this when you’re first concerned about a family member or when a family member comes to you about a challenge they’re facing.
Setting: one-on-one, semi-private, in a neutral space (out for a walk, eating a meal together, etc.)
Tone: casual, concerned, open, curious
Phrases that can help:
- "I wanted to check in. How are you doing?”
- "I've noticed...” Give a concrete example like you’ve stopped answering your phone, you’re spending a lot of time in your room, you haven’t been going to your ultimate frisbee club.
- “I’m concerned about...” refer to the specific statement, behavior
- Give them the option to talk “Is this something you want to talk about?”
- If not, gently let them know that there are lots of kinds of mental support if they want it.
- Stay calm, curious, and compassionate
- Listen with empathy without trying to fix the problem
- Ask how, when, what questions (how did that happen, when did you start feeling that way, what’s important about this to you) or simply say, “Tell me more.”
- Paraphrase what they’re saying
- Trying to fix the situation or jump in with a solution
- Platitudes, “at least” “you have so much to live for” “everything will be okay”
- Judgment of what they’re saying and their experience
- A big reaction
- Why questions, especially those that suggest the feelings aren’t valid like “Why is this bothering you?” or “Why are you so sensitive about that?”
When someone shares something difficult or vulnerable, acknowledge that. Tell them something like, “Thank you so much for sharing this with me, I know that was probably hard to do.” This can make a big difference in how seen, heard, and validated someone feels.
If the thought enters your mind at all that they may be suicidal, having suicidal thoughts, or at risk for suicide, ask them: “Are you thinking about suicide?”
This is probably the part of the conversation that will be most uncomfortable to you. Don’t let that stop you. Ask anyway because this is also one of the most important parts of this conversation.
Counselor tip: Practice saying, “Are you thinking about suicide?” out loud. Choose a friend or another family member to roleplay with and take turns asking the question.
Ask how you can support them in this moment. Sometimes we think we know what’s best for someone, but most of the time we don’t. Try questions like:
- Do you want me to listen?
- Are you looking for feedback or solutions?
- Can I give you a hug? or Would you like a hug?
Whatever someone’s going through, you don’t have to help them through it alone. Encourage them to get support, whether that’s from their family, friends, a mental health professional, etc.
Counselor tip: Offer to go with them, ask who is a supportive person in their life that could go with them, schedule a time to follow up and check in on how it went