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If you have ever been concerned about another person struggling with their mental health, and potentially suicidal thoughts, you know how difficult it can be to start a conversation about it.
The playing cards are designed to help someone who notices the warning signs in their friend or family member to have a context in which to ask the person they are concerned about if indeed they are at risk.
Why is it important to have context when you ask a person if they are thinking about suicide?
If you just ask a person “Are you OK?” the reflex response is most likely to be “I am Fine!”
However, if you ask them the same question prefaced by:
“I noticed that you have been (fill in the blank…drinking excessively, talking about dying, having outbursts of anger, etc). Are you thinking about ending your life?”
then you have a much better chance of getting an honest answer. If the answer is still fine, and the explanation of their mood change is suspicious, or easily shown to not be an honest answer, it gives you an opening to probe further.
IMALIVE Volunteers spend 40+ hours in training, learning how to best support chat visitors who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide. Our volunteers then go on to devote 16 hours every month to answering live chats from people in crisis.
After 11 years of providing crisis intervention support online, IMALIVE still remains the only free and confidential crisis chat available worldwide to anyone who is experiencing thoughts of suicide.
We understand that becoming or crisis line volunteer may not be for everyone. It takes a lot of time, emotional energy, and may not be everyone's preferred way to volunteer their time.
But we do believe that everyone can do their part to help prevent suicide.
Our suicide prevention playing cards can help you memorize the warning signs to look out for, so when the moment comes, you can point out those signs to someone you care about, and hopefully, be by their side as they reach out for help.
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WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS?
There are many different ways to describe the warning signs we are about to mention. To date, we only have clinical research to support a much smaller number and about 12 years ago a group of clinicians was tasked to reduce it even further.
The first one is Ideation which literally covers anything someone says that is related to dying by suicide, or actions they take, such as gathering the means - pills or guns,- and making threats about themself or others. This does not mean that everyone who talks about these things or asks where to buy a gun or where they can get certain drugs is suicidal. It just means that if this is out of the ordinary it begs the question why? Someone who is leading a productive, rewarding and enriching life would not be talking this way so this is a reason to ask why are they talking about this instead of something positive and hopeful.
Substance Abuse is more about observing a person who is abusing alcohol or drugs that previously had not. When you see this occur, it is justified for loved ones to ask why they are doing this now. We know so much more about the effects of drug and alcohol abuse today than ever before. It shortens the life span considerably and has its own immediate and short-term negative effects, such as alienating friends and family, as well as the pain one feels in a sober period after abuse.
Purposelessness is very hard to see in a young person who has not yet found a direction in life or a plan for their life. Having found one’s purpose and then losing it can be a major red flag.
Anxiety It is normal to be anxious about an upcoming test, getting Covid, or any of the things that can plague us in this modern day until it affects our ability to think rationally and get proper rest. That is the type of anxiety we are referring to here. If a person is sleeping all the time or unable to sleep or anxious to the point of it becoming debilitating then that is when the question should be asked and medical intervention is needed.
Trapped is a very powerful feeling in the emotional sense, and can be even more debilitating than the physical form of being trapped. If a person thinks they are going to lose their physical freedom unexpectedly, such as being arrested, or loss of financial security, like going through bankruptcy, those are red flags that warrant asking the question with these specific things being the context.
Hopelessness is the common thread that virtually all suicidal people feel prior to an attempt or death by suicide. It is why we often say “instilling a grain of hope” into another person is the greatest antidote to hopelessness and to the risk of suicide. In Dante’s Inferno masterpiece it is written above the Gates of Hell “ Abandon All Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” It does not say abandon 99% of hope, but ALL hope.
Withdrawal is another behavior to observe. It begs to seek the person out and ask why they are no longer attending (fill in the blanks) and when the answer given is not transparent or believable ask the question.
Anger is the easiest to observe and comment on. If a friend who used to be happy and even-tempered is now angry about little things, It is a caring thing to say you are worried about them being so angry all the time. What is going on with them? If they brush it off or do not give you an honest reply, it begs the question.
Recklessness is a tough one, especially with young folks who enjoy the adrenaline rush. It is one thing to go skydiving but to do it without a parachute? You will need to observe the risky behavior without any safety nets being deployed and ask why are they not wearing a helmet or a seatbelt.
Mood change can also be called Change without context. For example, the person you are concerned about used to be very clean and organized, and now they are unkempt or disheveled. Perhaps they used to be very devout, going to church on a regular basis, and now they have fallen away from practicing their faith. But it just as easily applied to someone who had no religious connection or faith and now they are going to church on a daily basis.
You are looking for change without a reason which gives you the context to ask why this sudden change (whether it is perceived by you and others as either a plus or a minus). Again, if there is no apparent explanation, then indeed they may be putting their affairs in order as they are planning on ending their life. Very often we hear from survivors who lost a loved one and they say how happy their loved one seemed to be just before their death. Making peace with the turmoil or pain can be a major red flag.