How to Help Someone with Suicidal Thoughts
Statistics show that on average, forty suicides occur every second, of every day. As high as the numbers are and as seemingly helpless the situation is, we can help.
For a lot of people, starting a conversation about suicide may seem intimidating. However, it’s important to know that any thoughtful, timely intervention may be the difference between life and death for someone.
Most of the time, depressed people feel their lives are unbearable. They arrive at a place in their lives where they feel life isn’t worth living. Suicidal ideations aren’t abnormal, and they’re not something to be embarrassed about. They’re an indication that it’s time to seek professional help.
Importance of Mental Health
The stigma around mental health means that a lot of people live in secret and fear without seeking help. Few people understand that depression can be treated, so most cases go unattended.
What’s more, most suicide cases are individuals with emotional or psychological issues, with depression being the most common. Other triggers commonly associated with suicide are relationship-related issues, substance abuse, health issues, and other stressful life events.
If someone you know is contemplating taking their life, don’t waste time – reach out and lend them a compassionate ear. Despite the misconception usually quoted, inquiring about their mental state doesn’t make them more likely to attempt to take their lives. Though you’re not liable for the next person’s actions, your kindness may literally save someone’s life.
Here are some helpful suggestions to guide you on how to handle a possible suicide case:
1. Know the Right Questions to Ask
Though tact is very important when handling a suicidal individual, throw caution to the wind, and ask direct questions to get clear answers. When a person you know is going through emotional pain, don’t be afraid to confirm any suicidal thoughts.
Openly addressing suicide conveys that you’re available to talk about it in a non-critical and supportive way.
Different questions you can pose include:
- Are you thinking about killing yourself?
- How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?
- Do you ever feel like giving up?
- Are you thinking about dying?
- Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
- Have you ever thought about suicide before, or tried to harm yourself before?
- Have you thought about how or when you’d do it?
- Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?
- Have you thought about how you would do it?
- Do you have what you need to carry out your plan?
- Do you know when you will do it?
Never promise to stay quiet about their contemplations of suicide. Take their confession as a cry for help and help them get the help they need. Encourage them to get professional help as soon as possible.
2. Look for Warning Signs
To be of help, you’ll need to know what the tell-tale signs are and be on the outlook for them. Be ready to intervene if you presume that somebody might be at risk
Warning signs include:
- Mentioning wanting to die
- Searching for means to kill themselves (search history shows searching for e.g. gun)
- Experiencing feelings of hopelessness
- Mentioning feeling stuck or in excruciating pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Excessive use of intoxicating substances (alcohol, drugs)
- Experiencing anxiety or agitation, or being reckless
- Change in sleeping pattern (too little or too much)
- Becoming withdrawn or isolating themselves
- Unusual rage or loss of patience
- Experiencing extreme mood swings
3. Offer Support
Be open and hear what they are feeling and why they feel that way. Have an open mind as you listen, show compassion and empathy and without being dismissive or judgemental.
Help them seek help from experts like psychiatrists or suicide hotlines. Make sure they have a strong support system, be it family, friends, clergy, coaches, or co-workers who they can reach out to for help.
After the initial conversation, make sure you follow up on their progress. Check up on them in the following days and weeks after, to assure them that they’re loved.
Be there for them whenever they want to talk, and let them vent and unload their troubles. Offering “logical” arguments won’t help, if anything, it’ll make them feel worse about themselves.
4. Kill the Stigma
Listen without being condescending. People contemplating suicide are usually burdened with feelings that they feel are out of their control. Most of the time all they need is an ear to listen without feeling judged. Let them vent their feelings of hopelessness, anger, and loneliness.
Make the person feel validated and demonstrate openness to allow them to be free to share with you. Don’t pretend to understand them if you’ve never experienced it, and unless specifically requested, don’t give unprecedented advice.
Remember that they’re feeling vulnerable, and take extra care to be sympathetic, and accepting.
5. What Won’t Help?
When a depressed person shares that they’re feeling suicidal, you may be tempted to:
- suggest a quick fix solution,
- share an empty statement like “happiness is a choice” and tell them to “snap out of it,”
- avoid talking about it,
- dismiss their feelings by telling them that their life is good and they shouldn’t feel down,
- argue with them on how “suicide is wrong,”
- guilt trip them with statements like “you’ll hurt your family”
- lecture them to “focus on the positives” in their life, or
- laugh and say they’re being silly,
- blame yourself and view their emotional problems as a failure on your part.
These responses are in fact, unhelpful. They may make someone feel:
- like ‘nobody gets it,’
Take All Signs of Suicidal Behaviour Seriously
Supporting someone experiencing suicidal ideations can be terrifying. If, regardless of your efforts, they still go on to take their life, remember not to blame yourself. You can only do so much, the choice to live or not to live is up to them. Make sure you seek therapy to help you deal with their passing and heal.
If the person is in immediate danger and you think they’re actively trying to end their life, call emergency services on 999. Ask for an ambulance, or take them to A&E at the local hospital. The medical staff will decide if they need to be admitted to hospital or not. Give the A&E staff as much information about the situation.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is generic and should be used for general purposes only. Under no circumstances should this be used in place of sound medical advice from health professionals. If you think someone you know may be suffering from emotional distress and contemplating suicide, please consult with a healthcare professional. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor.
Suicide: One person dies every 40 seconds. (n.d.). Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/09-09-2019-suicide-one-person-dies-every-40-seconds
Suicide in Teens and Children Symptoms & Causes: Boston Children’s Hospital. (n.d.). Retrieved July 23, 2020, from http://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/s/suicide-and-teens/symptoms-and-causes
Casarella, J. (2020, March 11). How to Recognize Symptoms of Suicidal Behavior. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/recognizing-suicidal-behavior