Your Turn: Key to preventing suicide involves more than just hotlines

Helping people stick around long enough to learn skills that help them get to #LifeWorthLiving is my passion. Some people call that suicide prevention — and call September Suicide Prevention Month. The week with Sept. 10 is USA National Suicide Prevention Week; and Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Year-round, lots of people I know share hotline numbers on their social media. Making sure every person has access to support is a kindness. We also need to share additional kindness, including in the form of additional tools. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in realizing that calling a hotline is not the first thing I want to do when I’m feeling bad. And being human means sometimes feeling bad, so I need tools in addition to hotline numbers.

I know hotlines. I served as a volunteer counselor and then as director of Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence from 1975 through 2013. And after that I helped a bit with Trans Lifeline.

Yep, I’m old. I have experience and expertise. I am committed to learning, which to me is part of living. I am no fan of “awareness campaigns.” I am a fan of teaching a mix of tools, so that at least some of them work for anyone who needs them.

One of my favorite tools from suicide prevention (and it’s intended to be used collaboratively in therapy) is the Suicide Safety Plan, copyright to Barbara Stanley and Gregory K. Brown, with detailed info about how to use it at

This is a great model for creating a personal plan for staying safe from any unhealthy behavior. I often explain safety plans as a way to figure out the detours you can take to avoid traveling down a well-worn path that go where you really do not want to go. And I remind people that you have to work at remembering to use those detours until they feel as natural as that old path.

Learning any new thing is bound to feel awkward at first. So instead of only telling someone about hotlines, how about encouraging them to sit down (ideally with a trusted person), and their writing tools (or apps) of choice? The goal is to create a safety plan that the person will really use. That also means having the plan where the person can find it. Creating the plan will take a while, and the plan will be even more helpful after it’s updated now and then.

The Suicide Safety Plan from Stanley and Brown includes:

Step 1: Warning signs (emotions, thoughts, images, mood, situation, behavior, physical sensations) that a crisis may be developing.

Step 2: Internal coping strategies — Things I can do to take my mind off my problems without contacting another person (relaxation technique, physical activity or other).

Step 3: People and social settings that provide distraction (places you can get to, and phone numbers for the people).

Step 4: People whom I can ask for help (with phone numbers for the people).

Step 5: Professionals or agencies I can contact during a crisis (with phone numbers for the people and agencies).

Step 6: Making the environment safe and listing Reasons for living.

Step 5 is the one where all those hotlines and such belong. Step 5. Not Step 1.

Some of my favorite recommendations for free, 24/7 support for a person in the U.S. are:

• Crisis Text Line: text “Start” to 741741,

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, main number 800.273.8255 (TALK)

• Trans Lifeline, 877.565.8860,

• The Trevor Project, 866,488,7386,

• Veterans Crisis Line, 800.273.8255,

Plus these peer-to-peer supports:

• 7 Cups of Tea,

• Koko,

Thanks to the American Association of Suicidology (AAS),, I am part of not only the national but also the international suicide prevention community. I am very proud and honored to be there. To borrow words about world peace from folk artist Brian Andreas of, we are “a really big, strange family,” where new family members are welcome. As AAS says, “Suicide Prevention is Everyone’s Business.”

And as Henry James said, “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” And that, my friends, is something we can each do for ourselves and for others to prevent suicide.

— Marcia Epstein is a Lawrence social worker and specialist in life changes, suicide prevention and suicide bereavement support.