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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 February 25, 2020

5 Rules for Overcoming Adversity and Emotional Pain

5 Rules for Overcoming Adversity and Emotional Pain

“Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world, the disarray. I choose to see the beauty. To believe there is an order to our days. A purpose.” – from the popular show, “Westworld”

It’s different for us all. My personal quest for purpose began with five stages of grief and one startling realization that everything’s endlessly fragile. Adversity, as it happens by rule, found me terribly unprepared, so I decided to take my time. Today, I can honestly say that I’ve grown.

Ugliness and beauty, good and evil, pain and laughter – everything in the universe consists of two forces that are opposing but complementary. In the face of difficulty, that is the only mantra you need.

Here’s how I learned it and why you should too, with five simple rules.

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1. Embrace the Complexity

Quite insidiously, adversities come in all shapes and sizes. Paralyzing physical disabilities, mind-wracking mental problems, ruthless emotional havocs, all leading to the same painful acknowledgement: all the beauty in the world cannot possibly make up for the ugliness that surrounds us. Shattered to pieces, helpless and bare naked, we sit in our therapy chairs, apologizing for being so negative.

Eventually, what it all comes down to is the nature of negative emotion. Our positives overshadow our negatives, thus wrongly teaching us that the road to well-being is paved with nothing but positive feelings and thoughts. How utterly wrong!

“If you’re not failing every now and then, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything innovative”, Woody Allen said.

It’s a classic “learn from your mistakes” rule, but in this case, it implies growing from negative experiences. Make peace with your negativities and embrace beauty and ugliness alike! Accepting this marvellously complex world just as it is will allow you to find purpose in adversity and meaning in misery.

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2. Find Balance, Regain Control

Still, accepting adversity is only the first step toward eventual victory. One can endure only so much trauma in life; if we’re not prepared to deal with difficulties in a productive way, even the minor setbacks can get us off track. Our strengths come from learning, and the best way to learn is through a series of trials and errors. Just like phases of grief or stages of drug addiction, adversities suggest a disabling loss of control, so find your way to regain it.

Some call it the coping mechanism; for others, it’s a spiritual will. However you choose to name yours, know that not all supporting systems are equally beneficial, though each is effective in its own way. Escapism was mine, but it only helped me retain the illusion of beauty. It wasn’t until I opened up toward the ugliness and accepted the naked truth that I was finally free. Whether you choose to dwell in art, religion and spiritualism, thus feeding your resilience from within or to reach out to others for help, choose wisely.

Whatever the means, the second rule is a golden one: find your inner balance and stick to it. Eventually, it will lead you out of the vicious circle.

3. Fight with Patience

My bargaining turned in depression with a single touch. Fearless and free, my dance instructor timidly put her hands on my shoulders and I realized, for the first time, just how tense, stiff and cloistered I was. And just like that, I started letting go. Adversities have their sneaky ways, but in my experience, becoming aware is what hurts the worst. It took me a year to recover from this little moment of self-discovery, and I know remember it as the edge of the rabbit hole.

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Some sufferings are impossible to console; I know that now. The only way to get through is to, well, get through. Depression and despair are only the beginning of the excruciatingly unnerving process that ravages the mind and shrivels the soul, and once they strike, there is no easy way back. So, fight them with patience. When your head starts spinning and your feet lose ground, go to your happy place. Over there, you’ll be reminded that nothing is forever, not even our little existential psychosis.

Take a deep breath and say “om”. When things cannot be combated, they have to be endured, so practice patience and learn to let go. Finally, keep repeating to yourself that this too shall pass.

4. Keep Swimming

Nothing is impossible, in the end. Your negative thoughts will gently pour into your positive ones, just as two streams come together to become a river. In the event of the inevitable disaster, one can only be as calm as still water. Suffering teaches patience, and the latter gives rise to flexibility. Ultimately, what is life than a series of unfortunate events and a handful of bright moments in between? If adversities are impossible to avoid, than learn to glide through as smoothly and patiently as water does with rocks.

Even if spirituality isn’t exactly your cup of tea, you have to admit that this is one solid metaphor. Staying adaptable in the face of change will soothe your panic attacks and keep you sane and sober-blooded. Even if you fail, you’ll know exactly how to breathe and face what’s in front of you once it eventually strikes again. Stay calm and visualize a better tomorrow; if anything else, it will give you strength to dive deep and weather the storm. And, in case there’s somebody’s hand to reach out to, grab it firmly and don’t let go.

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Being flexible against adversities takes a lot of learning, just as staying brave demands a lot of courage. It’s a long, arduous step-by-step routine, and you can reach the end only by swimming on. Persist, even when you fall.

5. Never Stop Searching for Inspiration

And, if it’s a guidance you need, where else to seek it than in experiences of others? Find it in art, in people around you, in chance encounters. The pure beauty of perseverance can be discovered where you expect it the least, so never stop searching for inspiration. If self-help literature soothes your pains and clears your mind, don’t let cynics discourage you. Your path toward reconciliation is nobody’s but yours to choose.

Ever heard of Nick Vujicic? Or Nando Parado? Inspiring people sound their yawps over the roofs of the world, sometimes voiceless, sometimes limbless, sometimes both. Born without arms, Jessica Cox became the most unusual certified pilot in the world, and you can rarely see her without a smile on her face. If you’ve already ripped all of your bucket lists and said goodbye to your dreams and plans, meet Sean Swarner, who’s officially became the first cancer survivor to climb Mount Everest. The stories just go on.

Make your own guidebook! Pen down your positive thoughts, cover your walls with quotes and devise your personal mantras. Whenever things get hard, they’ll be there to remind you of what you need to do. It’s the simplest of all life hacks, and one of the most effective ones.

Find beauty in the world, but never stay blind for its ugliness. However daunting, adversities and emotional pain challenge our inner strength, thus making us resilient and allowing us to grow. As soon as you recognize them as the wind in your sails instead of the devastating storm, the purpose will become simple and clear.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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