Lindsey Sewell / Montana Kaimin

When I started my first month in a real high school, September of my junior year, I was fresh out of a year-long stint in a treatment facility after my fourth botched suicide attempt. It was also, coincidentally, National Suicide Prevention Month.

A guidance counselor roamed the hallways passing out yellow ribbons to support awareness. My classmates wore these ribbons proudly around their wrists, gathered together in their support for each other and their overwhelming awareness of the suicide epidemic. I kept mine in my pocket, not a symbol of awareness, but a yellow badge of cowardice.

Whenever any well-known celebrity takes their own life, social media is flooded with words of support. People invite the suicidal to come to them, trust them. And normally, that’s about it. It ends there. The conversation surrounding suicide stops, as quickly as it began, at a hollow invitation to talk to strangers.

Other conversations center around how bad suicide is. I’ve sat silently through discussions about suicide being the “ultimate selfish act,” and that it’s a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.” These words reinforce the shame I’ve felt since I was a child, and in times of deep depression, that shame has never made me feel any less like killing myself.

The discourse around suicide prevention and awareness needs to center more around how those who aren’t suicidal can approach the situation in a way that would be beneficial to the person in need. Inviting someone to talk to you over social media won’t always work, especially when that person may find conveying their emotions to be an impossibility.

It’s true that there’s always hope, but for someone in the throes of suicidal ideation, that hope is nearly impossible to find.

If you think a loved one is acting strangely, notice them. Talk to them. If they tell you they’re suicidal, don’t just tell them everything will be alright. But most of all, listen to them. Be there for them. Actions speak louder than words, and it can be hard to convince someone that everything will turn out just fine when they’re in such a state. In that moment, for that person, it’s not believable.

Don’t be afraid to ask your friend if they’re feeling suicidal. If they say yes, here are a few tips on how to approach the situation:

  • Stay. Don’t leave them. Are they not with you? Go to them. Nonnegotiable. They need you.
  • Call a suicide hotline — the hotlines are there to help you create a plan of action. Don’t know the number? Look up Logic’s most popular song. Just kidding, the number’s 800-273-8255.
  • Take them to your local emergency room. A doctor will be better equipped to assess the situation, and your friend will be safe.

It has always been difficult for me to talk about my suicidal past without a heavy dose of self-deprecating humor and jokes about how horrible it is to get your stomach pumped. I have felt like a burden on my friends and family, I have felt ashamed. There were times where it was impossible for me to seek help. But in the moments where a friend noticed the warning signs, approached me and offered their help? Those were the times I felt supported. Not by a tweet or Facebook post, but by face-to-face interaction.

Suicidal ideation isn’t something to be taken lightly. It’s not always something that can be talked out over a few Twitter DMs. You could save your friend’s life by asking them, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”