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Be Well, Think Well: Suicide Resources

Overview

This resource, part of the Be Well, Think Well resource collection, provides information about what are suicidal thoughts and how to manage those thoughts, the risk and protective factors for suicide, and information to help professionals know what to do if they are working with someone with ASD who has thoughts of suicide.

What Are Suicidal Thoughts?

Suicidal thoughts are when people think about suicide or wanting to end their own life. Suicidal thoughts may happen if someone is depressed.

Suicidal thoughts are thoughts such as:

  • People would be better off without me.
  • I hate school, I want to kill myself!
  • It’s not worth living anymore.
  • Nothing matters anymore. I should just die.
  • I wish I never had been born!

People will call these thoughts “suicidal ideation.” It is important to get help if you are having any thoughts about killing yourself or hurting yourself in any way.

How to Manage Suicidal Thoughts

It is important to get help if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or thoughts about death.

What can I do if I’m having suicidal thoughts?

  1. Tell someone!
    Talk to someone you trust (parent, teacher, doctor, friend, etc.) about the thoughts you are having. They may ask questions about your thoughts and if you have plans to harm yourself. They may lock up or keep any weapons, medicines, or items that may cause harm. They can help get you connected to people who can help you feel better.
  2. Call 9-1-1 if you need immediate help
    The emergency workers will help you get to a hospital where you can get help.
  3. Call your local crisis intervention center
    County Crisis Intervention Teams are trained professionals that can help in a mental health emergency. Check out ASERT’S County Government Office page for a list of contact numbers for each county’s crisis intervention team.
  4. Call the National Suicide Prevention Center
    This hotline has trained professionals to help people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Call or text 988. They will talk you through what is going on and help connect you to supports.
  5. Meet with a therapist or psychiatrist
    You can talk to a mental health professional to learn healthy coping strategies. Mental health professionals can help you decide if more services are needed for you.
  6. Make a safety plan
    Work with a trusted person to develop a plan of what to do if you are having suicidal thoughts. The plan should include triggers for these thoughts, healthy coping strategies, distraction techniques, sources of comfort (pets, interests, emotional objects), and contact information of who to go to when you need help. Check out ASERT’s resource Safety Plan for an example of a safety plan.

Risk and Protective Factors for Suicide in Autistic Individuals

Suicide is among the leading causes of death in the United States.

These factors increase the risk of someone attempting suicide:

  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Misuse and abuse of alcohol or other drugs
  • Mental disorders, especially anxiety, depression and other mood disorders
  • Access to things that can cause harm (such as guns, pills, poison, knives, etc.)
  • Knowing someone who died by suicide, like a family member
  • Feeling lonely, being alone a lot, feeling a lack of belonging
  • Having a life-long disease and/or disability
  • Lack of ability to receive mental health care
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • History of being bullied
  • Difficulty with social communication*
  • Having unmet needs (examples: housing, education, employment, relationships, etc.)
  • Masking/Camouflaging*
  • Late autism diagnosis*
  • Female*
  • Experiencing autism burnout*

Items marked with an * are more true in the autism population compared to neurotypical individuals.

Protective factors don’t erase a person’s risk for suicide. They simply lower the person’s risk. Research on protective factors in the autism community is limited. However, the factors listed here are considered helpful in lowering a person’s risk for suicide in the general population:

  • Receiving mental health care, particularly from professionals trained to support autistic individuals
  • Strong connections to family, caregivers, friends and other resources close by
  • Life skills (including problem solving skills and coping skills, ability to be flexible)
  • Feeling good about yourself
  • Beliefs that killing yourself is wrong

If you’re concerned someone may be considering suicide or is a danger to themselves you can:

  • Talk to the person about your concerns, and see if they’re willing to get help
  • Remove sharp objects, weapons, and medications from their home. If that is not possible, at least try to lock them up. Also be aware of areas where a person could hang themselves.
  • Develop a safety plan with the individual. Include a list of individuals they can call for help, phone numbers for County Crisis Intervention, and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also include reminders about preferred calming strategies, ways to purposefully distract from stressful thoughts and other sources of comfort (pets, interests, objects).

Assessing for Suicidal Thoughts

People who are depressed or anxious have an increased risk for suicide. People with autism and  mental health conditions are also at a higher risk for suicide.

Ask Questions

If you are worried someone is having suicidal thoughts, the first step is to ask questions. It can be scary or uncomfortable to ask about suicidal thoughts, but asking can help people get the support they need.

  • Ask if the person has thoughts about hurting or killing themselves. If they say yes, ask
    them how often they think about hurting or killing themselves.
  • Ask if they have a plan for how they would complete the act of suicide. Persons who
    have a plan are at a higher risk for completing suicide.

Asking questions can help figure out if the person is experiencing passive or active suicidal ideation.

  • Passive Suicidal Ideation is thoughts of wanting to die without intent to follow through on these thoughts.
  • Active Suicidal Ideation is when a person has feelings that they want to die and either have a plan to die or are in the process of making one.

Provide Supports

The next step is to provide supports to help maintain their safety.

  • If the person has a plan, try to remove access to items that would allow them to carry out their plan. If you are able, secure all dangerous objects including: sharp objects, medications, firearms, or items that could be used for hanging. If firearms are present, the person may voluntarily agree to have local police secure firearms or to have the firearms secured in another location.
  • If someone is in immediate danger, stay with the person until they are in a safe place. Call 9-1-1 if the person is in need of immediate assistance. Emergency personnel can take the person to the hospital for support.

Connect to Additional Supports

There are different options and types of crisis support available to help people experiencing suicidal thoughts.

  • Crisis Intervention is a resource in every county in Pennsylvania and can provide support on the telephone. Crisis workers can also go to a person who needs help with de-escalation in an emergency.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline connects people with trained professionals who are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These professionals can help de-escalate an immediate crisis and help the person to connect with supports in their community. To contact, call or text 988.
  • Develop a safety plan that includes crisis warning signs, coping skills, and resources such as crisis intervention numbers. Check out ASERT’s Safety Plan resource for tips on how to make a safety plan.

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Other downloads

Name Description Type File
Be Well, Think Well: What Are Suicidal Thoughts? This resource provides examples of suicidal thoughts. pdf Download file: Be Well, Think Well: What Are Suicidal Thoughts?
Be Well, Think Well: How to Manage Suicidal Thoughts This resource gives some information about support and resources that are available to people who may experience suicidal thoughts. pdf Download file: Be Well, Think Well: How to Manage Suicidal Thoughts
Be Well, Think Well: Risk and Protective Factors for Suicide This resource provides information about risk and protective factors for suicide. pdf Download file: Be Well, Think Well: Risk and Protective Factors for Suicide
Be Well, Think Well: Assessing for Suicidal Thoughts This resource will help professionals know what to do if they are working with someone with ASD who has thoughts of suicide. pdf Download file: Be Well, Think Well: Assessing for Suicidal Thoughts

This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.