8 Ways To Help A Friend Or Loved One Who Might Be Suicidal

With the recent passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, we have been reminded of the harsh reality of suicide. Far too often treated as a taboo topic that we avoid at all costs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks suicide as the 10th leading cause of death. The hardest part for many to accept is the fact that it can impact anyone at any time, regardless of age, gender, religion, social status, relationship status, or culture.

Why is it that so many people suffer in silence? Experts point to the negative stigma that exists within our society, perpetuated by the way that we discuss these occurrences. For example, when a high-profile suicide makes the news, we, as a society, immediately begin speculating about their motives, and whether or not they ‘did enough’ to try to fight for their own life leading up to that moment. Even the language that we choose influences the way that we view the victims, such as the phrase ‘committed suicide.’ As Dese’Rae Stage, a suicide awareness activist explains, “It implies sin or crime and pathologizes those affected. We suggest more objective phrasing like ‘died by/from suicide,’ ‘ended their life’ or ‘took their life.’ If we’re using the right language, if we’re pulling negative connotations from the language, talking about suicide may be easier.”

If you have ever been in a position where you believe that a friend or a loved one may be struggling, then you may be feeling helpless or frustrated. Often, we fail to truly understand what they are going through, desire to help and fix the situation and find it difficult when they don’t appear to be ‘trying’ as hard as we believe that they should to escape this mental prison. The first step to help someone break free from the darkness is to understand the best ways that we can reach out to those in pain. We can’t force them to take our help, but we can open the door and invite them to come through.

Do You Believe a Friend or Loved One May Be Suicidal? Here Are 8 Ways You Can Help:

#1 – Educate Yourself on the Warning Signs

Often those that need our help the most are not going to open up and share that they are struggling. Instead, we need to be perceptive, watching for the signs that they are battling their own mind. While some of these signs are topics that they bring up in conversation, others are shifts in their behavior that may indicate that there is something happening that they aren’t discussing.

The common warning signs of suicide include:

– Starting to use, or increasing their use of drugs or alcohol

– Referencing the fact that they have no reason to live, or they are feeling hopeless

– Behaving recklessly

– Discussion of wanting to die or considering killing oneself

– Extreme mood swings

– Acting agitated, anxious or easily annoyed

– Acting out in rage, or discussing desire to seek revenge

– Admitting to feeling trapped or experiencing unbearable pain

– Changes in sleeping habits, including sleeping too much or not sleeping enough

– Researching ways to kill oneself

– Withdrawing from friends and family, isolating oneself

– Stating that they believe they are a burden to others

#2 – Take the Situation Seriously

Due to the negative stigma that we have been fed in relation to the topic of suicide, people will often shrug off mention of suicide as being nothing more than a joke or an over exaggeration. If someone has given you any indication that they may be a suicide risk at this time, especially if they actively share that they are having suicidal thoughts, treat the situation with the seriousness that it demands. Counselor Michele Moore warns, “One of the most over-looked signs is probably the most clear one: that is, actually telling people that they are thinking about killing themselves and want to do it.”

#3 – It’s Okay to Not Have All the Answers

Don’t put pressure on yourself to have all the answers and solutions for this situation, especially if you aren’t a trained mental health professional. Topics surrounding mental health, such as depression and suicide, can be difficult, confusing or hard to understand. Your loved one doesn’t need you to be perfect, they need you to be there and offer your support. Listen to what they have to say and resist the urge to try to ‘solve’ or ‘fix’ the situation. It’s also completely okay to admit that you don’t have all the answers. If you are concerned, but aren’t sure what the next step is, share this with them, tell them you want to see them better, that you care about them, and you want to help them find the help that they need. There is nothing they need more right now than your love and support.

#4 – Leave the Judgment and Anger Behind

If someone is opening up to you about their feelings, this is an incredibly difficult and vulnerable time for them. Rather than trying to fix the situation or becoming frustrated because you don’t fully understand where they are coming from, try to listen with an open mind. If you lash out, express anger for the way that they are feeling or judge them for their struggles, this will only push them back into hiding. They need someone who can listen to them as they share what they are currently battling with, offering a shoulder to cry on without trying to talk them out of it or reason with them.

#5 – Ask Specific Questions

Don’t beat around the bush if you are trying to determine whether there is an immediate risk. Ask very specific questions, focused on being clear and direct. This may be intimidating or awkward for you at first but understand that getting this information out in the open will assist you in determining the necessary next step. Those individuals that are at the highest risk for taking their own life in the near future will often have devised some sort of plan or intention. Effective questions include Are you thinking about suicide?’, ‘Do you have access to weapons or things you can use to harm yourself?’, ‘Have you thought about how or when you would do it?’, or Do you have a plan to harm or kill yourself?. Remember, leave the judgement and anger out of this exchange.

#6 – It Is Okay to Use the Emergency Room in A Crisis Situation

If the answers that you receive to these questions make you feel as though that there is an immediate threat or true crisis situation, don’t hesitate to use the resources available. While many people consider their local hospital emergency room to be for car accidents, heart attacks or broken bones, they also offer services for those in crisis. If you believe that your loved one is an immediate and serious threat to their own life, then get them to the nearest emergency room to speak with a professional trained in crisis management. Trust your gut and don’t hesitate, suicide is a serious risk that demands your immediate attention.

#7 – Suggest Professional Help

If someone is seriously at risk for suicide, then they need to connect with someone who is equipped to provide them the level of assistance that they require. While you likely want to be there, unless you are a doctor, crisis counselor or mental health professional, then this is the point where you need to encourage your loved one to seek professional assistance. This step can be incredibly frightening for those that are struggling, and even the idea can be intimidating, but this is where you can help! Offer to be their support agree to accompany them to their appointment, to drive them if necessary and to stay by their side throughout this process. Remind them that they aren’t alone, they have you. Furthermore, remind them that there is no shame in seeking professional assistance. You wouldn’t judge someone for seeking a doctor’s assistance if they broke a leg. This is a similar situation!

If you need assistance immediately and are unable to seek out a professional for a face to face appointment, there are other options available. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for immediate free, confidential support.

#8 – Take Care of Yourself

While your concern may be your loved one, don’t overlook the way that this situation can also impact your own life. Supporting someone who is depressed, or contemplating suicide can be incredibly emotional, frightening, stressful, draining, and overwhelming. There is an old saying that you ‘can’t pour from an empty cup’, and this definitely fits the current situation. If you fail to take care of yourself, you aren’t going to be of any assistance to another. Take some time to focus on your own physical, emotional and mental needs, and you will be better prepared to be the supportive friend or family member that your loved one requires at this time.

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