It’s September 1st! Fall is almost here and all over the internet today people are rejoicing over the thought of sweater weather and pumpkin spice lattes. While I can’t blame them, there’s something far more important that I want to talk about today. The month of September is officially recognized as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, National Preparedness Month, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and National School Success Month. While all of those topics are very important, I want to talk about National Suicide Prevention Awareness and how you can help someone who is feeling suicidal.
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed therapist or counselor. I am sharing information related solely to my personal experiences and the thoughts/feelings that suicidal friends and family members have shared with me over the years. If you or someone you love is feeling suicidal I highly encourage you to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They are available 24 hours a day, everyday. You can also visit them online at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ and chat.
Over the years, I’ve had friends and family members who have gone through periods of extreme depression, often to the point of feeling suicidal. Now, I do support a person’s right to die especially in situations where they are facing incurable illnesses or in extreme chronic pain. I don’t think it’s fair to force a person to live if they do not wish to do so. However, I also believe that a person should be of sound mind when they make that decision and a person facing depression or other mental illness is not of sound mind. That’s important to remember when you’re speaking to someone feeling suicidal.
When someone is feeling suicidal they are often unable to see beyond the present moment. They are overwhelmed with depression, anger, anxiety, fear, or grief and unable to think clearly. They may argue and claim that they are thinking clearly but most often, they are not. Don’t argue with them as arguing has the potential to drive them into action just to prove they meant it. Just know, yourself, that they are not thinking clearly and you need to handle the situation delicately and with patience and love.
Here are a few things I recommend doing to help…
Have a conversation about suicide
It’s important to encourage the person feeling suicidal to open up and talk about it. It’s hard to listen to someone you love talk about their suicidal thoughts and feelings but it shows that you care and often giving them the opportunity to express their feelings and be heard relieves the negative feelings.
To start the conversation you can express concern and ask how they’ve been. Try letting them know you’ve noticed a change in their attitude or behavior and want to know if they are ok or would like to talk. Whether they open up or not, ask if there is anything you can do to offer support or help. Again, whether they engage or not, reassure them that they are not alone, that you care, and that you are available for them any time they feel like they need a friend to talk to about whatever they’re going through.
Also, don’t lecture them on the value of their life or tell them that suicide is wrong. No matter how close you are you don’t know all of their struggles and fears and lectures about morality don’t help prevent the suicide risk at this time.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep
Be wary of making promises to someone feeling suicidal. Don’t promise to keep the conversation or a situation a secret because if their life is at risk or if a crime has been committed, you have an obligation to report it. While you would be breaking your word to save a life or to report a crime, a potentially suicidal person would view the situation as one less person in their life they can trust.
You also shouldn’t make statements like, “I promise you, everything is going to be ok” or “I swear this will get better” if you aren’t in a position to take action and make things ok. Instead, reassure them that you are there for them, that they aren’t alone, and that you’ll do everything you can to help.
Encourage professional help
Understand that you can only do so much to help someone feeling suicidal and it’s important to refer them to a professional. If they refuse to call a crisis hotline themselves, you should call and ask for advice. The people at those hotlines can give you instructions or referrals to help your friend or family member. You should also encourage them to see a mental health professional or therapist. Let them know that it’s ok to seek counseling or therapy and offer to accompany them to the appointment. If you can, make a date of it and offer to go to lunch together or out for coffee afterward so they aren’t alone following the appointment.
If you encouraged them to seek a professional, check back in a few days and see if they made an appointment. If they were prescribed medication, ask how the medication is making them feel. Call their home or cell to check on them rather than waiting for them to call you. Send a text, reach out on social media, or drop by unexpectedly. Reaching out and following up reassures your suicidal friend or family member that they aren’t alone and that they do have someone that cares.
Again, I am not a licensed therapist or counselor. I am sharing information related solely to my personal experiences and the thoughts/feelings that suicidal friends and family members have shared with me over the years. If you or someone you love is feeling suicidal I highly encourage you to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They are available 24 hours a day, everyday. You can also visit them online at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ and chat.
Loving someone who struggles with suicide can be hard but knowing how to be a friend and show love and compassion during those times is critical. If you have any other tips or advice to help someone who is feeling suicidal, please leave them in the comments below.