Know this Acronym to Help Prevent Suicide

Shandra Martinez

| 3 min read

It's not always easy to know how to help someone who is struggling with despair, depression, or thoughts of suicide. You may be worried about saying the wrong thing. The acronym WAIT can give you a step-by-step approach to how to support someone who may be suicidal.
Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. It was responsible for over 48,000 deaths in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, one person in the U.S. dies from suicide about every 11 minutes. And even more think about it. In 2021, an estimated 12.3 million adults considered taking their lives, 3.5 million made a plan to do it, and 1.7 million attempted suicide.
Experts say if you are worried about someone, reach out to them to see how they are doing. Survivors of suicide attempts and suicide experts say intervention can prevent suicide. The acronym WAIT offers a strategy for approaching someone who may be contemplating suicide.

Watch for signs

The W stands for “Watch for the signs of distress and uncharacteristic behavior.” This can include changes in mood and behavior. For example, someone who is usually part of a group or activity may become withdrawn and stop showing up or responding to texts, emails or calls, or a usually even-tempered person becomes easily agitated and frustrated. Their words can also provide some clues. Are they talking about wanting to end their lives, or seeing no purpose, or going to sleep and not waking up and talking about escaping their pain? According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, people who choose to end their lives often show a combination of these warning signs.

Ask about suicidal thoughts

A is for asking “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” Reaching out and showing you care can be key to helping a person through this time. People who are having thoughts of suicide often feel trapped and alone. When someone reaches out and offers support, it reduces a person's sense of isolation. Simple gestures such as asking "Are you doing OK?" or saying "If you need anything, let me know" can be effective ways to communicate with someone who is in emotional pain. It can interrupt the negative spiral that can lead to a crisis. The website for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a list of do’s and don'ts when trying to help someone at risk.

It will pass

I is for “It will pass.” Let the person you are helping know that the despair they are feeling at the moment will pass. Listen and encourage them to talk about their situation and assure them that their feelings will pass with time. Those considering suicide feel hopeless and don’t see things turning around. Showing empathy for their situation and taking them seriously makes it easier for them to talk about their pain. Don’t leave them alone. Instead, stay with them to discuss the ways that you can get them help.

Talk to others

T is for “Talk to others.” Encourage your loved one to seek help from a professional. Someone who is contemplating suicide or is very depressed may not know where to go for help, or have the energy to find help. If the person doesn't want to see a doctor or mental health professional, suggest other sources of help, such as support groups, crisis centers, and faith communities. If you know someone who needs immediate help, call or text 988. The 988 Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources.

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