How do you respond to someone when they tell you that they want to kill themselves? A year ago, I would have had no answers. Now, having gone through the training to take calls for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, I’m still not sure I have the answers.

During fall semester, I signed up for training to become a CONTACT volunteer. CONTACT is a student group on campus that volunteers for a mental health crisis line and picks up calls from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. In order to become a volunteer, you need to complete 10 weeks of training on active listening, mental health crisis, and suicide prevention.

The training for CONTACT reminded me a lot of the first aid training I had to do to become an Outdoor Action leader. In both trainings, we practiced by doing extensive simulations and debriefing afterwards. Crisis situations are still difficult for me to handle, but because of the training I’ve received, I feel a little more prepared to act. In fact, after these experiences , I started rethinking mental health in terms of overall health. If you were ever in a medical emergency, you would try and seek help right away. If you are ever in a mental health crisis, seeking help should also be the priority.

Throughout the training process and chats, I was surprised by the radical power of feeling seen without judgment. Oftentimes, I’ve realized, people are capable of solving their own problems in their own time. What most people are truly looking for in a mental health crisis is not someone to explain a solution to them, but rather just to feel supported and not judged.

So, while a few words cannot compare to a semester worth of CONTACT training, I’ll leave you with two basic pieces of advice on how to handle a mental health crisis in case you ever find yourself or someone you know in such a situation.

Listen without judgement. Say things like “It sounds like you’re feeling overwhelmed” or “It seems like you’re going through a lot right now.” Or simply just show that you’re interested in listening to what they have to say.

Make it known that you care and want to help. When someone is at risk of hurting themselves or others, you want to make clear that you care about them and ask them to remove themselves from the threat.

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