- How to help someone who is suicidal
How to help someone who is suicidal
Knowing that someone close to you is experiencing a lot of emotional anguish can be devastating - no one wants to see someone they care for suffer.
It can be difficult to know how to help someone who is suicidal. As much as you want to stop them from feeling the way they do, you probably know that their unhappiness is deep and complex. You might be worrying about the potential impact your interference could have - will it drive them further into themselves? Will talking about suicide trigger an attempt? Will they mistake your concern for nosiness?
Remember - if you are worried about someone, don't stress in silence - get help. Speak with a friend, a counsellor, or any other person you feel you can trust. Talking about it, opening up and understanding what to do will put you in a better position to help your distressed friend or family member recover from their suicidal thoughts.
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Suicide carries with it many myths and misconceptions. This is because it is such a difficult subject to understand and talk about.
Unfortunately, misconceptions and myths can be dangerous because they demonstrate a lack of understanding that could prevent vulnerable people from getting the right help they need at the right time.
It is vital that we get to the bottom of these suicide myths so people who need help can get the good-quality support they need.
Suicide myth 1: People who talk about suicide are just attention seeking and won't actually go through with it.
You should never assume this. When someone frequently says things like: 'My life isn't worth living' and 'I wish I could just die', they may well be vying for attention, but statements like these should never be dismissed as melodrama. The fact is: people who talk about the idea of killing themselves are looking for help. It doesn't matter if they've made serious suicide plans or not, the fact that they're reaching out shows that they have something they want to talk about. Take the opportunity to ask them more about how they feel. Showing that you care about them and value their feelings could help them to see that they can cope with the right support in place.
Suicide myth 2: You shouldn't talk about suicide because it might give someone the idea to do it.
Suicide is difficult to talk about, there's no denying that. If you think someone close to you is having suicidal thoughts, you might feel reluctant to bring the subject of suicide up in case it gives them the idea to do it. This is not so. In fact, most people say talking directly about their experiences can be a huge relief, and helps them to discover other ways of getting through the pain they feel. Don't let this person carry their feelings around in silence - instead, give them a chance to release them.
Suicide myth 3: If a person is serious about killing themselves then there is nothing you can do.
You might think there is very little you can do when someone appears to be in complete turmoil, but it is important to realise that their feelings are probably temporary. Feeling actively suicidal usually only lasts for a short period of time. Even when that person has been struggling for a long time, there is still time to help them. People can recover even from the darkest levels of despair.
Signs someone wants to attempt suicide
People rarely kill themselves impulsively - even if it seems that way to the friends and family they leave behind. Often, people who die by suicide are ending a long history of pain they kept hidden from the outside world.
If you suspect someone you know is suicidal but you're not completely certain, ask your self this:
As far as I know, has this person ever experienced any of the following...
- Sexual or physical abuse?
- A traumatic event - like an accident, a natural disaster or severe violence?
- Divorce, separation, or the end of an important relationship?
- Failing performance at school, University or work?
- Death of a friend or family member?
- Problems at work or job loss?
- Impending legal action?
- Money problems?
Any of these difficult situations could lead to that person feeling that they no longer wish to carry on living.
Next, ask yourself if you've noticed this person displaying any of the following behaviours:
- Frequent crying - puffy eyes and blotchy skin can indicate a person has been crying a lot. People who cry a lot clearly feel very unhappy and might need someone to ask what's wrong.
- Changes in social patterns - they stop attending social functions and become difficult to contact.
- Lack of interest in physical appearance - not wearing make-up if they usually do, not washing, not ironing clothes or taking care of themselves can indicate a lack of care.
- Self-destructive behaviour - self-harm, drug taking, alcohol abuse, reckless driving and taking unnecessary risks can all be indicators that a person no longer cares whether they live or die.
- Talking a lot about death and suicide - if someone talks frequently about death and suicide, it's highly likely that they're thinking about it too.
- Expressing hopelessness - statements such as 'what does it matter?' and 'it's never going to get better' demonstrate that they see no way out of their situation.
- Sudden appearance of calm - if they have been very depressed for a long time and they suddenly seem calm and happy, they may have made the decision to end their lives.
As well as looking out for changes in the way they act, you might want to take note of the things they do. For example:
- Settling affairs - if they make a will, give away their favourite possessions or make certain arrangements with family members, it could be because they are preparing to die.
- Sudden reconciliation - apologising for or admitting to things that happened a long time ago can indicate that they're laying old feelings to rest.
- Seeking out potential suicide methods - if you find knives, rope or large quantities of drugs then this person may be preparing their suicide.
How to help someone who is suicidal
Knowing how to help someone who is suicidal is difficult. If you're worried someone is having suicidal thoughts, the first thing you should do is ask them to talk about how they feel and listen to everything they say. Remember - you don't have to act the agony aunt by giving them advice or saying you know how they feel. You must also be careful about coming across as judgemental. You may well have formed certain opinions about their habits and behaviours, e.g. that they drink too much, but voicing them will only make things worse.
Instead, show empathy. Empathy is not the same as sympathy. Sympathy is saying you can identify with what a person is saying. Empathy is saying you appreciate how they must feel, even if you have never experienced it yourself.
Avoid addressing their problems with your own experiences and instead ask questions. Asking questions will give them the opportunity to be honest and encourage them to think about things that might not have occurred to them before. However, be careful with your phrasing. Avoid questions like:
- Why did you do that?
- What are you going to do now?
These questions probably can't be answered and might make the other person feel threatened or frightened. Instead, ask open-ended questions such as:
- Where did that happen?
- What else happened?
- How did it make you feel?
- What were you thinking when it happened?
Do not be afraid to talk about suicide. Speaking openly about suicide will not make the person more likely to do it. In fact, it could make them feel less alone and frightened.
Help them look at options for solving their problems. Giving them the number for their GP is a good place to start as he or she will be able to arrange professional help. Alternatively, you can contact a private counsellor or psychotherapist to start treatment immediately.
How to stop someone from attempting suicide
If you think a person is seriously thinking of ways to attempt suicide, you are advised by the NHS to do the following:
- Contact your closest A&E department and ask them to put you in touch with a crisis resolution team (CRT). CRTs are teams of mental healthcare professionals who help those experiencing serious psychological distress.
- While waiting for treatment, remove any possible suicide methods from the room, such as knives, rope, medication, or bleach
- If you think a person might try to kill themselves before there is time to get help from a CRT, you must dial 999 and ask for an ambulance.
Get support for yourself
It can be hard to come to terms with the thought that someone you care about wants to end their life. You may experience a myriad of emotions, including:
- Guilt - you might think you could have tried harder to keep them happy and to support them through their difficult times.
- Hurt - depending on your relationship with this person, you might feel hurt that they want to end their life - especially if you are a big part of each other's lives.
- Angry - you might feel like they have no right to make such a big decision - have they thought about the impact their suicide will have on you, or the rest of their friends and family?
- Scared - you might be scared to leave them alone in case they attempt suicide. You might also be afraid of the responsibility you now face to help them get better.
When dealing with a person who might be suicidal, it is important to withhold your own emotions. As angry, shocked, hurt and scared you might be - this is not about you. All you have to do is:
2. Show you care.
3. Give them hope.
If you need help coping with these emotions, then you may find counselling beneficial yourself. A counsellor will help you come to terms with all of the stress you've been under and stop you from compromising your own mental health in the process.