Getting Help For Someone Else
Concerned about someone who may be thinking about suicide?
- Are you concerned that someone you know has or is now thinking about suicide?
- Are you close to or living with someone who has or is now thinking about suicide?
- Are you close to or living with someone who is living with mental illness?
You are probably wondering what you can do to help someone who is thinking about suicide. First, it is important to know that you cannot prevent someone from having thoughts of suicide but you may be able to prevent someone from acting on those thoughts.
Suicidal thoughts are a symptom of psychological pain often experienced as a sense of hopelessness and extreme sadness. Thoughts of suicide are NOT a character flaw or sign of personal weakness; they are a symptom of a greater problem that can be treated.
IF SOMEONE YOU KNOW:
- Threatens suicide
- Talks about wanting to die
- Shows changes in behaviour, appearance, mood
- Uses drugs or alcohol excessively
- Deliberately injures themselves
- Appears distressed, sad, withdrawn…
YOU CAN HELP BY:
- Staying calm and listen
- Let them talk about their feelings
- Be accepting, do not judge
- Ask if they have suicidal thoughts – learn how to ask by attending safeTALK
- Take all threats seriously
- Don’t promise secrecy – TELL SOMEONE
- I care and want to help you through this
- I don’t want you to die
- I am here for you
STAY WITH THE PERSON AND CONNECT THEM TO SUICIDE HELPING RESOURCES
Show your concern and be empathetic
When someone is experiencing thoughts of suicide they may be reluctant to talk about their thoughts. How do they know that you are a safe person to tell? How do they know you will not judge them? Will you understand the depth of what they are feeling?
Think about the fear or discomfort often felt when the topic of suicide arises and you can imagine the vulnerability it requires of someone to share their thoughts of suicide. Treat their willingness to share their thoughts of suicide as a gift and give them the respect they deserve. They will likely be very careful about who they tell. You can make it easier by letting them know you care and by acknowledging the pain they are experiencing.
Be patient, caring and sensitive. Remain supportive and let them know you are there to listen.
Talk about their thoughts of suicide
Your willingness to talk with them about their thoughts of suicide will demonstrate that you are a safe person to talk to. Talking about suicide provides an opportunity for the person with thoughts of suicide to explore what they might be thinking or feeling. Talking can help bring some perspective and reassurance as well.
Talking about suicide will not give someone the idea and not everyone who thinks about suicide will act on those thoughts. Many people experience passing thoughts of suicide that diminishes over time. For many others thoughts of suicide will increase in both frequency and intensity. Take all thoughts of suicide seriously. Connect your loved one to suicide helping resources.
If you believe someone is at imminent risk of suicide call 911. Do not promise secrecy in these circumstances.
YOU CAN PREPARE YOURSELF TO HELP BY:
Expanding Your Understanding of Suicide
Suicide is an issue that can leave us questioning our beliefs, values, relationships, society etc. It is important to reflect upon your thoughts and challenge yourself to explore beyond your current understanding.
Suicide does not discriminate. It is present in all countries, cultures, religions, ethnicities, genders, age groups and it occurs regardless of economic resources or status. If you can accept that suicide is part of the human condition and its potential lies in anyone, anywhere at any time, then you can free yourself of the blinders that prevent you from helping yourself or someone else.
Expanding your Understanding of Mental Illness
It is common for people living with a mental illness to have thoughts of suicide. Some studies have shown that 80-90% of individuals who have died by suicide had at least one diagnosis of a mental disorder.
Whether or not you know someone living with a mental illness, take some time to learn about mental illness by visiting your library, taking a course on mental illness, attending community workshops, attending a support group for family and friends of those living with mental illness etc.
LMSPC has provided links to resources where you can begin your exploration.
It is important to note that mental illness is not by itself a predictor of suicide. Not all individuals living with mental illness experience or act on thoughts of suicide.
Learning to Recognize the Signs
Most individuals thinking of suicide TELL us in some way that they are thinking about suicide. These “tells” may be through their behaviour, indirect language such as: “I have a solution”, “nobody would miss me”, or through their demeanor such as a sense of worthlessness, hopelessness.
All individuals are unique and how they will tell us about their thoughts of suicide will often be unique to that individual, as a result it is important to pay attention to what is different or out of character for the individual. For a list of the most common signs you may observe please visit ”warning signs”.
You can learn how to identify persons with thoughts of suicide by attending safeTALK suicide alertness for everyone.
Your loved one has survived an attempt. What now?
When your loved one is discharged from the emergency department/hospital they should have a plan for follow-up care. The plan should include any medications, scheduled appointments, referrals to other professional resources and a plan to stay safe.
The safety plan may include things they can do to calm themself, reasons for living, who they would tell if thoughts of suicide return, contact numbers for local crisis lines, trusted friends or family members, family doctor, signs that suicidal thoughts or feelings may be returning and what to do about them. Ask your loved one to share their safety plan with you.
Additionally, it is a good idea to create a safe space at home by removing access to methods they could use to suicide from the environment. Alcohol and drugs can also affect their thoughts and interact with medications. Discourage the use of alcohol and drugs.
Recovery is a process not an event. It will take time for your loved one to process the many emotions they may be experiencing. Note that you cannot do this for them, your loved one must do the work to recover, find hope and learn to live but you can support them on this journey.
You can begin to support them by trying to have a conversation about what happened. In a calm, sincere and non-judgmental manner you can let them know how you feel about the pain they were experiencing and that you want to understand. They may not yet be ready to have this conversation and if not, let them know that you want to help and are available to talk when they are ready.
It is important for your loved one to build a support system around them without feeling like they are in a fish bowl. The goal is to provide the necessary support while maintaining the integrity of their relationships. You can facilitate this by:
- Asking your loved one how they want to be treated.
- Ask how you can help. Ask for specifics i.e.: help with daily activities, attending appointments, locating needed resources etc.
- Negotiate a “check in” time to discuss their recovery i.e.: every Sunday at noon for 15-30 minutes, discuss how things have been since last “check in”, did they have difficulties, what did they do, how did they cope, what went well, progress with other professional supports etc. Reinforce the positive ways in which they coped with any difficulties. Acknowledge any progress towards recovery.
- Ask them how you can tell if they are feeling unsafe. Develop a scale for them to express their level of safety i.e.: 1 – 10, 1 not safe at all, 10 feeling extremely safe.
- Ask how you can intervene when they are not safe.
- Ask them what is helpful and unhelpful for them. Ask for specifics.
- Help them build a survival kit. i.e.: list of things they can do to comfort themself, list of contact information for people or organizations they could call, cards of hope with their reasons for living, list of people who love them etc.
- Be judgmental, impatient or angry.
- Smother or suffocate them with attention or excessively monitor their activities for a prolonged time.
- Assume that they are “out of the woods”.
- Make statements like “how could you do this?”, “what were you thinking?”.
- Blame yourself.
- Keep it a secret, avoid talking about it, ignore it.
- After a Suicide Attempt: A Guide for Friends and Family. Klinic Community Health Care.