How to Provide Help to Someone Considering Suicide

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and it’s time we talk about a topic that can be uncomfortable to discuss. But, not talking about difficult issues does not make them go away.

Even before the pandemic, we were seeing a surge in suicides. Now, suicide is at record levels and doesn’t seem to be abating.

While the statistics are sobering – about 3,800 attempts a day – there truly is hope for those suffering with suicidal thoughts. Treatment is effective in helping those with suicidal ideation.

What Do You Need To Know About Your Loved One’s Struggle?

The first thing you need to know is that their pain and struggle is very real to them. Be aware of warning signs and concerned if they are:

  • Preoccupied with death or dying.
  • Talking about suicide. Examples are “I wish I was dead,” “I’m going to kill myself,” “I want to die.”
  • Withdrawing from social contacts, events, and wanting to be alone.
  • Having significant mood swings, being emotionally high one day and deeply down and depressed the next.
  • Getting the means to take their own life. Examples are buying a gun, or hoarding pills.
  • Skipping work or important events without care.
  • Engaging in dangerous or self-destructive activities, like using drugs or driving recklessly.
  • Giving away belongings or “getting affairs in order” with no good reason to do so.
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.

What Can You Do? What Should You Say?

It can be difficult to tell if someone is having suicidal thoughts. Many people who are severely struggling can be good at covering it up. If your senses tell you a loved one is hurting, it is important to talk to them, and ask the right, direct questions to find out the intensity and immediacy of the risk.

Showing compassion and concern are legitimate responses to someone struggling with suicidal thoughts. Be sensitive and caring. Do not judge or make dismissive comments (see below what not to say to someone considering suicide).

Do ask the correct questions: 

  • Are you thinking about suicide?
  • Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  • Have you thought about suicide before?
  • Do you have access to weapons or drugs that can be used to harm yourself?

Regardless of their answer, again, do not judge their reply. Use their answers as a barometer as to how intense their struggle is. Do not minimize or play down their situation. Always take it very seriously if someone says they are having suicidal thoughts. Here are ideas of what you should say:

  • I have noticed you seem to be going through a rough period. Would you like to talk about it?
  • Please talk to me. I’d like to help if I can.
  • I may not fully understand everything you’re feeling, but I do care, and I want to help.
  • [If they are talking to you] I care, and I’m listening.
  • [If they are talking to you, listen intently. Nod your head if they say something that you would do to acknowledge you understand what they are saying] Yes, keep going.
  • Thank you so much for talking to me.
  • Call me anytime you feel you need to talk, or be with someone. I am here for you (but be sure to be there for them).

It may feel as though it is difficult to find anything right to say. But being authentic, truly caring, holding a hand, and simply listening and trying to understand can help immensely. 

What Should You Not Say? 

If you are talking to someone who is having suicidal thoughts, you must be disciplined to release your judgment, release your “critical eye,” and merely show love and compassion.

Listen, be present, simply comfort and provide a safe place for the person, even if they get animated. Above all, don’t say:

  • It will get better (implying you have a vanilla response to a serious situation).
  • Don’t talk like that! (dismissive).
  • You would devastate your family if you were gone (this makes the conversation about you or another, and not them, which can add to their guilt).
  • This will pass (meaning your feelings aren’t that valid).
  • Let it go (meaning this should be easy to overcome).
  • Be strong (implies suicidal feelings are weak).
  • You’re selfish to feel that way (being judgmental).
  • Other people have it worse (not understanding the depths of their feelings).
  • You have so much to live for (if they truly felt that way, they wouldn’t be suicidal).

There is HOPE

This is a serious topic, and one that we need to discuss openly. Treatment has proven to be very effective for those struggling with suicidal thoughts. People feeling as though they are in the depths of despair can regain their balance, happiness, and purpose in life.

What feels like an inescapable downward spiral can be overcome when that person feels hope, has a plan for the future, and can see and feel their “real” self returning.

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