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What To Do If Your Loved Ones Are Talking About Suicide

What To Do If Your Loved Ones Are Talking About Suicide

Let me ask you a question. If a loved one were in extreme pain and suffering excruciating agony, would you call a doctor or phone 911? No doubt you answered yes. In many ways, a loved one who is considering suicide is going through a similar agony. The only difference is that he or she is suffering from a psychological pain which is making their existence unbearable. That is why you must help.

Here are ten tips to help you reach out and support a loved one who is talking about suicide. I am not a psychologist but I am merely offering some advice which is advocated by most of the suicide prevention agencies. This is important, I feel, as our attitudes to mental health are still in the middle ages. Also, the CDC reports that in the USA, there were over 8 million people who reported having suicidal thoughts last year. About 25% of those had actually moved on to the planning stage.

1. Don’t brush it under the carpet

Once your loved one starts to make remarks about ending it all, it is important to sit up and take notice. Something is terribly wrong and the subject must never be a taboo. A life is at stake here. You need to show that you have heard their cry for help. Being there means being prepared to talk about it.

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2. Talk to them and listen attentively

The worst thing you can do is to try and talk the person out of the idea of suicide. This will probably have a negative effect because the person will feel like they are not understood. They really believe that nothing can lift them out of their despondency and hopelessness. You are there to listen and to try tounderstand why they have arrived at this point.

First, you need to give the person your full attention. Make sure you are not distracted by your cell phone. Lean forward and keep eye contact. It is important to ask about the reasons and then repeat them back. This shows you are actually listening! There is no need for any judgmental comments or cheerful platitudes, so avoid these at all costs.

3. Show empathy for them

All the experts recommend that we show empathy rather than sympathy towards a friend or loved one who is suicidal. Dr. Robert Firestone has explained that the person has converted all the negativity in their lives into a sort of destructive and terrible self-critical “anti-self” which takes over completely. That is why they need to discover their real selves. By being close to them and giving them the support they need, we can help them along the path to survival and life.

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4. Ask if they have made any plans

You could ask if they have actually made any plans about how and when they plan to commit suicide. If you think there is any imminent danger of an attempt, then you should call the nearest National Suicide Helpline in your area.

5. Ask about how they have coped with suicidal thoughts up to now

For many people, suicidal thoughts are nothing new. They have been over this ground many times. You could ask them how they managed to cope by not attempting suicide at various times in the past. Psychologists recommend homing in on the positives which persuaded them that it was not worth it.

6. Agree on an action plan

A friend of mine who is gravely ill once told a doctor that she was going to end it all. His reply was, “Well, that is one solution. Now let’s talk about other solutions.” This is the key to developing an action plan with your loved one. You plan out a series of things that have to be done. You both make a commitment to carry out certain tasks. Ask him or her to repeat back what you have agreed on. They will value the structure because they feel they are falling to pieces. You can agree that your loved one will promise not to harm himself in any way for a specific period. This is just the first step. You can try repeating the agreement out loud as this will reinforce the message that you are both in this together and are totally committed. Make sure they have the telephone numbers of the helplines as this will be part of the back up plan, should they feel that they cannot make it and you are away.

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7. Encourage them to recall happy moments and hope in life

You can help a loved one by helping them develop coping strategies. These can include having a box with treasured souvenirs which they can look at which will remind them of the reasons to live. These may be favorite photos and other mementos of happier times. Psychologists often refer to this as a “hope kit.” Another good strategy is to get them to make a list of reasons for living. Both these tasks serve the purpose of moving away from being totally passive which fuels suicidal thoughts.

8. Discuss a safety plan

This can include a list of things to do to cope with overwhelmingly negative thoughts. It could be an outing, sports, cooking, watching a funny video or just going for a walk. Make sure they have your number to call or another trusted friend or relative. They also need the suicide helpline number (International Association for Suicide Prevention). Staying safe and staying active should be key elements in your action plan.

9. Encourage them to achieve mini goals

The action plan will contain mini goals so that the enormity of the task does not overwhelm them. We are there to encourage them to learn skills and coping mechanisms to help with each suicidal crisis. The process is an ongoing one but the sense of weathering the storm will be a forceful message that staying alive is worth it after all.

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10.Try to help them see long term goals

When the immediate crisis has passed, it is important to look at long term goals. These may include getting help and treatment from a mental health provider or a support group. While you cannot fulfil this role, you can at least be there and help them move forward in taking the first steps. Offer to go with them to their first appointment, if they are okay with that.

As suicide is now the tenth leading cause of death in the USA, it is better to be vigilant rather than let things drift.

Let us know in the comments how you have helped a loved one who has talked about suicide.

Featured photo credit: Talk/ Matus Laslofi via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on December 10, 2019

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

Here’s the truth: your effectiveness at life is not what it could be. You’re missing out.

Each day passes by and you have nothing to prove that it even happened. Did you achieve something? Go on a date? Have an emotional breakthrough? Who knows?

But what you do know is that you don’t want to make the same mistakes that you’ve made in the past.

Our lives are full of hidden gems of knowledge and insight, and the most recent events in our lives contain the most useful gems of all. Do you know why? It’s simple, those hidden lessons are the most up to date, meaning they have the largest impact on what we’re doing right now.

But the question is, how do you get those lessons? There’s a simple way to do it, and it doesn’t involve time machines:

Journal writing.

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Improved mental clarity, the ability to see our lives in the big picture, as well as serving as a piece of evidence cataloguing every success we’ve ever had; we are provided all of the above and more by doing some journal writing.

Journal writing is a useful and flexible tool to help shed light on achieving your goals.

Here’s 5 smart reasons why you should do journal writing:

1. Journals Help You Have a Better Connection with Your Values, Emotions, and Goals

By journaling about what you believe in, why you believe it, how you feel, and what your goals are, you understand your relationships with these things better. This is because you must sort through the mental clutter and provide details on why you do what you do and feel what you feel.

Consider this:

Perhaps you’ve spent the last year or so working at a job you don’t like. It would be easy to just suck it up and keep working with your head down, going on as if it’s supposed to be normal to not like your job. Nobody else is complaining, so why should you, right?

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But a little journal writing will set things straight for you. You don’t like your job. You feel like it’s robbing you of happiness and satisfaction, and you don’t see yourself better there in the future.

The other workers? Maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t care. But you do, you know and care enough to do something about it. And you’re capable of fixing this problem because your journal writing allows you to finally be honest with yourself about it.

2. Journals Improve Mental Clarity and Help Improve Your Focus

If there’s one thing journal writing is good for, it’s clearing the mental clutter.

How does it work? Simply, whenever you have a problem and write about it in a journal, you transfer the problem from your head to the paper. This empties the mind, allowing allocation of precious resources to problem-solving rather than problem-storing.

Let’s say you’ve been juggling several tasks at work. You’ve got data entry, testing, e-mails, problems with the boss, and so on—enough to overwhelm you—but as you start journal writing, things become clearer and easier to understand: Data entry can actually wait till Thursday; Bill kindly offered earlier to do my testing; For e-mails, I can check them now; the boss is just upset because Becky called in sick, etc.

You become better able to focus and reason your tasks out, and this is an indispensable and useful skill to have.

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3. Journals Improve Insight and Understanding

As a positive consequence of improving your mental clarity, you become more open to insights you may have missed before. As you write your notes out, you’re essentially having a dialogue with yourself. This draws out insights that you would have missed otherwise; it’s almost as if two people are working together to better understand each other. This kind of insight is only available to the person who has taken the time to connect with and understand themselves in the form of writing.

Once you’ve gotten a few entries written down, new insights can be gleaned from reading over them. What themes do you see in your life? Do you keep switching goals halfway through? Are you constantly dating the same type of people who aren’t good for you? Have you slowly but surely pushed people out of your life for fear of being hurt?

All of these questions can be answered by simply self-reflecting, but you can only discover the answers if you’ve captured them in writing. These questions are going to be tough to answer without a journal of your actions and experiences.

4. Journals Track Your Overall Development

Life happens, and it can happen fast. Sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and look around at what’s happening to us at each moment. We don’t get to see the step-by-step progress that we’re making in our own lives. So what happens? One day it’s the future, and you have no idea how you’ve gotten there.

Journal writing allows you to see how you’ve changed over time, so you can see where you did things right, and you can see where you took a misstep and fell.

The great thing about journals is that you’ll know what that misstep was, and you can make sure it doesn’t happen again—all because you made sure to log it, allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes.

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5. Journals Facilitate Personal Growth

The best thing about journal writing is that no matter what you end up writing about, it’s hard to not grow from it. You can’t just look at a past entry in which you acted shamefully and say “that was dumb, anyway!” No, we say “I will never make a dumb choice like that again!”

It’s impossible not to grow when it comes to journal writing. That’s what makes journal writing such a powerful tool, whether it’s about achieving goals, becoming a better person, or just general personal-development. No matter what you use it for, you’ll eventually see yourself growing as a person.

Kickstart Journaling

How can journaling best be of use to you? To vent your emotions? To help achieve your goals? To help clear your mind? What do you think makes journaling such a useful life skill?

Know the answer? Then it’s about time you reap the benefits of journal writing and start putting pen to paper.

Here’s what you can do to start journaling:

Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com

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