Anyone and everyone can struggle with thoughts of suicide and suicidal ideation. I myself have struggled and sometimes still have those thoughts. And you know what? It’s OKAY to have those thoughts. It does not make anyone a bad person to admit they are having those thoughts. In fact, it shows a great sign of strength and courage for someone to come up to us and admit they are struggling. We have the potential to be the first line of support for someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts. The great thing is that we don’t have to be professional experts to be able to help someone who admits they are struggling. We just need to be willing to be present with them and listen. Here are some tips to help you if someone admits to you they are suicidal.
- If someone tells you they are suicidal, DO NOT ask them why. As much as I know you may be curious to know why they feel that way, the truth is, it doesn’t matter why they feel that way. All that matters is that they do. The “why” part is something that will be explored when the individual is in therapy with a professional. In fact, the person may not even know themselves or cannot explain it to you. By asking “why,” this can further isolate the individual through being perceived in a negative, condescending tone as if being asked “why are you suicidal…when you shouldn’t feel that way?” SAFETY is the main concern. We want to ensure that individual is safe and remains safe.
- Do not promise to keep it a secret. This is one specific circumstance where confidentiality may be broken to keep the individual safe. You may need to reach out to someone else such as a close family member or emergency crisis personnel to be able to ensure the safety of the individual
- Be direct. If they have not come out and said it, ask them “Are you thinking of suicide?” or “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” You are NOT going to trigger them to think about it or to do it because chances are, they are already thinking about it. By being direct, we can help them voice their thoughts by speaking openly and matter-of-fact about it, showing the individual that we are willing to talk about it and hear what they have to say.
- Do not judge what they are saying. Actively listen to what they have to say without interruption. Often they feel as if they are not being heard and this may be their one chance to feel heard, to be safe. If they are willing to admit to you that they are struggling, then they are trusting you enough to be a safe place for them to talk. Don’t tell them whether suicide is right or wrong. Don’t tell them whether their feelings are valid or invalid. Their feelings are valid whether you believe they are rational or not. Their feelings are REAL to THEM. Don’t lecture them and try to force them to see your views or try to lecture them on the value of life. Remember, safety and creating a safe place for them to talk is the most important idea right now.
- Do your best not to act shocked or surprised to hear that they are thinking of suicide. I also realize that this may also be difficult. However, do what you need to do to maintain a neutral, supportive stance if someone tells you that they are thinking about suicide. If the person sees that you are shocked, this may come off as judging and may isolate them further.
- Don’t give them advice, try to fix how they are feeling, or try to fix their problem. It is not our responsibility to fix their feelings or their problems. It is our responsibility to love them unconditionally and provide them the support and care that they need. Just by listening we are giving them support. By keeping them safe we are giving them support. We are showing them that they matter, that they are important, and that they are worthy of our time, because they are. We are showing them that we care.
- Ask them if they have a plan, and if they have the means to do it. If they do have a plan, ask them details. Ask if they intend to carry out that plan. The more you know, the more you will be able to assist in keeping them safe. If they have a plan, and they have an intent, DO NOT leave them alone. If they have the means to carry out their plan, take action to remove those items from them as peacefully as possible.
- TAKE ACTION! This may be offering to call the Lifeline with them, or the crisis number that is available in your area if you are international. The Lifeline is routed to the closest one to your location and can assist with finding local crisis resources in your area (US only). This may be calling an emergency crisis response team. This may be contacting their closest relative or someone who will ensure they get the help they need and stay with them. The action will depend on each situation and each individual risk.
Helping someone who is suicidal does not have to be frightening and is not something that only mental health professionals can do. We can ALL be the light in someone’s darkness. Still want more experience? Speak with and interview a mental health professional who can give insight and additional experience on situations and what to do. Going through Mental Health First Aid class is also very beneficial. You can find local classes by clicking here.
Stay tuned the entire month to get more valuable information on suicide education and prevention. #nomorestigma
National Suicide Lifeline1-800-273-8255 (In the United States)
Crisis Text Line: Text HELP to 741741 (In the United States)
*International crisis lines may be unique to certain areas. Be sure you know the crisis lines and resources in your area.
-April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor