It can be difficult to know how to help someone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide. If a friend or family member has expressed suicidal thoughts to you, you are undoubtedly feeling emotions of fear, anxiety and a desire to help. But what can you say in moments like this? What is the right way to help them without causing any more grief?
There are two crucial things you can do during this time to help: have open conversations with your loved one and educate yourself on the warning signs of suicide.
Encourage an open conversation
When a loved one expresses suicidal thoughts, your first instinct may be to reassure them that nothing is wrong and they’re going to be okay – while you may have the best intentions behind this statement, it might not be what your loved one needs to hear. In their mind, they don’t believe that anything is wrong, which is why they approached you in the first place. Therefore, instead of putting weight on false assurances, allow your loved one to share with you what’s going on.
In fact, while the subject is often uncomfortable to speak about, talking openly about suicide with your loved one is an important suicide prevention strategy. It may help them externally process the thoughts in their head that are causing them so much grief.
You can start responding to their expression of suicidal thoughts with questions like:
- How long have you been feeling this way?
- Did something happen that triggered these thoughts?
- Are you thinking about getting medical help for these feelings?
- What can I do to best support you?
Let the person know that even though you may not understand exactly what they are experiencing, you care about them deeply and want to help them overcome their suicidal thoughts. Reassure them that they are not alone, and that help is available.
Don’t get stuck on the possibility of saying the wrong thing. Instead, aim to speak to your loved one with warmth and authenticity, and know that your concern will show through. Act as a listening ear and allow them to tell you about their sadness, anger and despair. The ability to express even the most negative feelings is a positive sign that your loved one hasn’t given up on themselves and trusts your desire to help.
What not to say
When someone you know has expressed suicidal thoughts, take what they say seriously. Even if they make vague references such as “I can’t go on,” ask them specifically what that means – are they having thoughts of self-harm or struggling with deep feelings of depression? The sooner you can get to the heart of it, the sooner you can get them the help they need.
When conversing with your loved one, there are some things to avoid saying, too. Don’t argue with them or provide empty platitudes like “You have so much to live for” – even when these statements are true, they are not going to provide much comfort to your distressed loved one. And while it comes from good intentions, now is not the time to engage your loved one in a discussion about your moral views on suicide. The most important thing is to recognize your loved one needs your help and discussions of morality can come later.
Let your loved one know you are a trusted confidante, but refuse to keep your conversation a secret. When your loved one’s life is at risk, you should always speak to a mental health professional as soon as possible.
Signs of suicidal thoughts
Obviously, unless your loved one comes out and announces they’re battling thoughts of suicide, it may be up to you to identify the signs. Knowing the signs of suicidal thoughts is a key prevention strategy, and will allow you to broach the topic with your loved one from the concerned standpoint of, “I’m noticing these things, can I help you or can I talk to you about it?”
Signs that your loved one may be battling suicidal thoughts include:
- Reckless or self-destructive behavior, including driving under the influence or engaging in dangerous promiscuous behavior
- Giving away possessions or making arrangements for them
- Expressing feelings of self-loathing or lack of self-worth
- Withdrawing from people and activities previously enjoyed
As with most signs, the more you notice, the greater the reality that your loved one is struggling and at risk. That being said, don’t wait for all the signs to accumulate before taking action. Being proactive is key to preventing suicide.
Get someone to help today
If someone you love has expressed suicidal thoughts, it is important to get help for them as soon as possible. The staff at High Focus Centers has the skills and experience to help your loved one fight their suicidal feelings. Submit a confidential contact form to learn more about our mental health treatment programs.