Gatekeeping is actively participating in preventing suicide in your community. A gatekeeper is observant of the people around them—to be able to identify when someone is in distress, sound the alarm, and intervene.
Anyone can be a gatekeeper—a teacher, a classmate or colleague, a manager, an employer, the domestic help, a security guard—literally, anyone.
How can I be a gatekeeper?
You need to observe your peers, be on the lookout for signs of suicidal ideation, and intervene in case you notice these signs in a person. A person who is experiencing suicidal ideation may:
- Display signs of emotional distress
- Express feelings of being a burden on those around them
- Convey a strong desire to die
- Increase the use of substances, like alcohol, nicotine and recreational drugs
- Talk about death frequently
- Actively research methods of suicide
- Isolate themselves from everyone, or bid goodbye to their loved ones
- Start putting things in order, such as creating a will or taking out an insurance policy
How to intervene?
Upon identifying somebody, who may be contemplating suicide, a gatekeeper can intervene by:
Offering a safe space for the other person to talk about their emotions and thoughts
Start the conversation by simply asking them if they have ever had thoughts of not wanting to live. A common misconception is that asking such a question may suggest suicide as a solution. In reality, it makes it easier for a person to talk about their suicidal ideation.
Experiencing thoughts of suicide can cause a person to feel a sense of shame. Asking a question with an open mind can help them talk about what they’re going through, without feeling ashamed or guilty.
“I’m here to listen, you can tell me anything you feel comfortable talking about.”
Empathize with them:
“I can see that, you are feeling vulnerable at the moment.”
Accept, and validate their emotions:
“You have been dealing with a lot of stress for a while now.”
Don’t judge, shame, blame, or alienate them further.
Do not offer advice, unless they ask for it.
Avoid cliches such as:
“Suicide is something that only cowards do.”
“Think about your family, how will they feel?”
“You are stronger than this, stop indulging in so much self-pity.”
Statements like these can aggravate their emotional distress, and push them towards isolation.
Removing any means by which they might harm themselves
- Sharp objects
- Pesticides, or household items containing poison
Ensure that the person is not left alone, until the crisis passes by:
- Making arrangements to stay with them
- Contacting their family, or other peers (with their permission) to stay with them
Encouraging, and accompanying them to seek professional help
Encourage them to seek help when the situation seems like it may escalate. As a gatekeeper, it is important to understand your limitations. Someone who is having thoughts of suicide may need more than a friend’s shoulder. If you are unable to ease their emotional distress, refer them to a mental health professional.
You can encourage them to call the Mann Talks Helpline, where they can talk to a trained mental health professional, who can offer them resources to address their suicidal ideation.
If you are looking for a 24-hour crisis helpline, here are some options: