Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. On average, approximately 132 people commit suicide each day.
If someone tells you they have thoughts of harming themselves, it can seem shocking, upsetting, and confusing. You may not know how to respond appropriately. You might also worry that saying or doing the wrong thing will worsen the situation.
It's important to remember that their disclosure means they trust you. It's always important to take suicidal threats seriously, and it's essential to take action quickly.
Let's get into how you can support someone who is suicidal.
Ask Specific Questions
There is a profound difference between passive and active suicidal ideation. Passive ideation sounds like, I wish I weren't alive. The world would be better off without me. I want to die. Active ideation takes it a step further- the person experiences those thoughts and intends to act on them.
It's important to ask clarifying questions to understand the severity of your loved one's situation. These questions include:
Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
Have you thought about suicide in the past?
Have you considered how or when you'd do it?
Do you intend to carry out this plan?
Do you have access to weapons?
Some people worry that these questions might plant an unfavorable idea in someone's mind. But suicide is much more complex- if your loved one is struggling, your questions won't be the tipping point that causes them to hurt themselves. It's important to be direct when asking questions. If you're vague, you exhibit a sense of discomfort. They may pick up on that emotion and downplay, lie, or shut down altogether.
Show Your Support and Compassion
When someone feels suicidal, they often believe ending their life is the only way out. However, this thought can trigger immense shame. It's important that you remain even-keeled and calm when talking to your loved one. Any judgments can push them away.
Some supportive, empathic statements include:
I love you, and I'm always here for you. We can figure this out together.
I can see how hard it must be.
I will do what I can to help you. I love you.
I won't pretend to know how you feel, but I will do my best to understand.
Avoid generic cliches that may come across as insensitive or invalidating. Even if these statements come from a place of good intention, they may trigger more guilt and shame. They can make your loved one feel more alone and rejected. Some of these cliches include:
God doesn't want you to kill yourself.
Think about your children! They would never forgive you.
Suicide is a selfish act.
You just have to pull yourself together.
You have so much to be grateful for!
Remember that people don't necessarily want to feel suicidal. It just seems like the only option. Regardless of your own opinions about suicide, you must remain as open-minded and non-judgmental as possible.
Keep Them Safe if They're in Imminent Danger
Despite what some people think, suicide is rarely an impulsive act. Instead, most people think, plan, and even talk about their thoughts for several weeks or months.
Don't assume that someone talking about suicide means they won't act on it. Research shows that many suicidal people often communicate their intentions to others.
You can help someone who is suicidal by:
contacting the suicide prevention lifeline.
not leaving them alone, especially if they live alone.
continuing to talk to them and show your support.
removing all sharp objects, pills, and any other item that can inflict harm.
helping them make a safety plan.
Keep in mind that it's better to overreact than underreact. It's always worth irritating your loved one if it's going to be the action that saves their life.
You also aren't responsible for holding their secrets. If someone discloses suicidal thoughts, but makes you promise not to tell anyone, let them know you can't hold that promise. In these emergencies, it's more important that you seek help from the right channels than protect your loved one's feelings.
How Treatment Can Help Someone Who Is Suicidal
When you love someone who is suicidal, it can feel frightening and confusing. It's important to help them find supportive and comprehensive treatment.
If your loved one is in immediate distress, call 911. They may need supervision and monitoring to ensure their safety. If they're struggling with chronic issues like depression, anxiety, or substance use, professional treatment can help them develop appropriate coping skills to manage their distress.
At The Resurface Group, we are here to support our clients' mental health and addiction needs. We are here to restore happiness and fulfillment- even if you've lost your purpose. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one.