Written by: Cally Worden
There is a taboo that exists around the idea of suicide that makes people wary. But turning your back on it is not the answer. If you become aware that someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, that individual is probably reaching out to you for help. After all, none of us are mind readers. Such thoughts are only shared when the person wants them to be known, even if they say they don’t.
Be a Listener
The single, most helpful thing anyone can do for someone who is feeling suicidal is to give them the confidence to talk to you, listening to what they have to say is equally important. Listening to someone else’s problems can be difficult and draining. It may be tempting to offer solutions, like a quick fix that will soon have things sorted out. But this is deeply unhelpful.
The root of a problem that leads to suicidal feelings is not something that can be mended just like that. The person concerned has probably been on a long, challenging, emotional journey that has led them to their current state of mind. It will take time, patience and compassion to help the person. What you can do is be there, be supportive and help to keep them safe if you feel they are in immediate danger of harming themselves.
Don’t be a Judge
We all have our own life stories, our own paths we are following. It is not for any one of us to judge the thoughts, feelings, behaviours or decisions of another. Even if you believe that certain actions the person is taking are compounding their situation (such as taking drugs, or consuming alcohol). Now is not the time to bring out the soapbox. What is needed instead is support, respect and reassurance.
Enquiring as to how the person is feeling, what led them to where they are now, gives them an opportunity to talk if they choose. Questions allow them to remain in control, they are in no way obliged to answer. Try to avoid questions that suggest your own ideas about how they may be feeling.
Keep your enquiries short, simple and open. This may encourage the person to share things they were afraid to bring out into the open before. Statements that may subtly suggest an end to the conversation may be unhelpful, avoid saying things like ‘I understand how you feel’, or ‘Don’t worry about it’. Statements such as these can also come across as dismissive, this may damage any trust that has been established between you.
Seeking Professional Assistance
Talking through their feelings and issues may help someone who is contemplating suicide, to feel temporarily secure, but it is unlikely such feelings will last. More often it is the case, those experiencing thoughts of suicide will require long-term professional support to help them deal with their problems.
Seeking the help of a professional can feel like a huge step for some people. It can help if you offer to assist them in finding some additional support, also it may allow you to find support for yourself too. Helping others is not always easy, especially when the issues are as serious as this. The Samaritans, charities such as MIND and Rethink Mental Illness, are all good places to seek advice and guidance.