Suicidal thoughts, feelings, and a desire to die can become overwhelmingly strong. But you can help people to move through this. You can learn how to help.
They reach out to you for help.
You have noticed your best friend, family member, or workmate being more withdrawn than usual. They have had a huge disappointment recently, a redundancy, a relationship breakdown, and even though on the outside they seem fine, you sense that something is not quite right.
So you ask, ‘Are you OK?’
They minimize your concern, but you continue to gently ask, only to discover they are suicidal.
Helping Someone Who Is Suicidal
1. Listen to yourself.
Tend to your needs first. This may sound selfish, but in any situation of crisis, you have to make sure you’re OK first.
When the Oxygen masks fall from the ceiling in a plane, you must put your own on first before helping others.
So, how are you? What’s happening in you? Are you panicked, distracted, overwhelmed, fearful?
Just take a deep breath, calm yourself, and tell yourself the truth – You can only do what you can do, and you can get help from others.
You can read more about this in my book, ‘So you want to help.’
2. Assess their danger.
How dangerous is this situation right here right now?
You might like to ask questions such as
- Have you thought about how you would do it?
- Do you have what you need to carry it out?
- When will you do it?
- What has happened that you have come to this point?
- Have you considered all the alternatives available besides suicide?
- Is there someone with you? (if talking over a phone)
- How long have you been feeling like this?
- What makes these feelings or thoughts worse or better?
3. Spread the load.
Involve others. The weight of supporting someone who is suicidal is too great for anyone person to carry.
You can only do so much, and others with other skills and abilities need to be involved. It may be the person’s doctor, nurse, counselor, pastor, family member, friends. All with different roles and parts to play in a person’s life.
Think of a recovery community being involved, rather than just yourself.
The Doctor has a role in assessment, medication, and accessing services you just can’t. The nurse has a role in follow up and support.
You have an important role in whatever it is you do. If a friend, then it is in being a friend.
Spreading the load is crucial to your long-term mental health and what you can offer them.[pullquote]Don’t leap out of the train, just because it’s going through a tunnel[/pullquote]
Don’t make a promise that you won’t tell anyone.
Negotiate with them who would be ok to talk about this with. It may be one of the emergency telephone numbers I have listed below. Just don’t take this burden on yourself, spread the load.
4. Make short-term commitments.
Ask them to commit to not actioning their plan in the next … hrs.
Try and make it for 24 hrs, but contract with them for a defined short period. This will enable you to get further help for them.
Empower them by developing a plan with them for the next 24 hrs. When you bring the thinking down to a very clearly defined time scale, it helps the brain to think short-term and to what is achievable.
Ask them what they would like to happen in the next 24 hrs
- Make an appointment with the Doctor
- Call Nurse …
- Use calming strategies
- Removal of items that are planned to be used in suicide
- Walk on the beach
Define times when these will happen and check-in times to see if they have been completed. Possibly a reward for doing them.
‘After going to the Doctor, we will go to a cafe’ [pullquote]There is a ladder for my pit – and there is an excellent counselor who can help me find the way out[/pullquote]
Delaying for 24 hours gives time to work on alternatives. It is not your duty to talk a person out of suicide; instead, it is about that person changing their mind and being empowered by their own decision making.
This gives them confidence and the ability to be more hopeful.
In doing this, you offer real hope. Let them know that alternatives are available and that working together as a team can bring change. They may have overlooked other options, especially if they are depressed or under the effects of a substance.
5. Provide tangible truth reminders.
The brain is a mess and needs truth coaches to give it a focus. One method is to have some small cards that they can carry around with them at all times with messages such as …
- Don’t judge the future by the past – the future will be different when new insights and understandings restore hope. Click to Tweet
- Don’t leap out of the train, just because it’s going through a tunnel. Click to Tweet
- This despair will not be permanent. One day I will look back on it. Click to Tweet
- Yes, something must stop, but it is not my life – it is the beliefs that are the source of pain. Click to Tweet
- Following my feelings is not the way out of my vicious loop. In fact, it reinforces it. Is there anything truly wrong, or is it my habitualized – perception? Click to Tweet
- There is a ladder for my pit – and there is an excellent counselor who can help me find the way out. Click to Tweet
- The mere fact that I exist is proof enough that God needs me. Now I must find my purpose for today Click to Tweet
- This is not the way to ask for help or teach anyone a lesson. Click to Tweet
- ‘Unemployed’ does not mean ‘useless.’ I am the only one who can make myself redundant. Click to Tweet
Source: School of Living Wisdom Manual
You might like to use these little insights to text (SMS) or tweet to someone. Load them into your phone, ready for use.
6. Take care of yourself
We started with self-assessment, and now we cycle back to the same question. After supporting someone in a suicidal crisis, you can be exhausted, and it’s important to ask again, ‘How are you? Really’.
- Do you need to debrief with someone?
- Process what has gone on? It is so important to have others around you that care and love you. That will affirm your efforts and say ‘well done.’
I remember once that I was supporting someone who was deeply suicidal. I helped them make a plan for the day and to return to see me in the afternoon. I then went to the movies.
I just went and saw whatever was on. I still remember it – ‘Miss Congeniality 2’, not something I would typically go to see, but it was a place to blob out and distract myself. It was just what I needed.
In summary, you might well be the one that intersects someone’s life when they are suicidal and become part of a team that helps them. What a privilege.
Need help now?
I am writing this in New Zealand. Call these New Zealand numbers for help if needed.
- Emergency Services phone 111
- The Lowdon – Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757 or free text 5626
- Kidsline 0800KIDSLINE
- Lifeline 0800 543 345
- Whats up 0800 942 8787
- Youthline: 0800 37 66 33
Need help in recovery from Depression? I have a free eBook I give away to new subscribers. Check it out here.