Wondering how to help someone with suicidal thoughts? Ups and downs are a part of every individual’s day-to-day life. No one can escape problems, however, some enjoy challenges and look forward to overcoming them or at least are not daunted by them. While there are others who find even the smallest of troubles overwhelming. Though there are times in life such as the death of a loved one or a business failure, that can stress out the best of people. In such a situation having a mental disorder, especially an untreated one can make matters worse. Whether one is suffering from a problem or not extreme circumstances can make a person negative enough to start contemplating terrible steps, such as suicide.
Suicidal thoughts or tendencies develop when a person starts believing that suicide is the only solution to all the problems in his/her life. It is possible that such an individual might be feeling low, hopeless and worthless as well. That is why it is important for loved ones to be aware of how to help someone with suicidal thoughts if they start seeing someone close go through a rough patch in life and start to change.
Suicide could be a desperate call for help or an individual’s last attempt to break free from the unbearable stress and worries plaguing him or her. When someone commits suicide it not only leaves behind scars on the survivors but has a terrible effect on family members and loved ones as well. It could lead to guilt, blame and depression in the people left behind and in some cases, even they could become suicidal. A person harboring suicidal thoughts generally develops feelings of self-hatred, isolation and hopelessness. Anyone, irrespective of age, gender or ethnicity can become suicidal. There are different levels of severity of being so – low, moderate, high and severe.
- A person is said to have a low suicide risk if he/she has suicidal thoughts but no exact suicide plan. Also, the person is heard saying that he/she won’t actually attempt suicide.
- Moderate suicide risk is present if a person has suicidal thoughts and an indefinite plan that is not very dangerous. In this case, also the intentions of the person can be gauged if he/ she also goes around saying that they won’t attempt suicide.
- A person with high suicide risk is one who has suicidal thoughts and has a specific plan to accomplish his/her fatal aims. Such a situation can be dangerous even if he/she denies his/her chances of attempting suicide.
- A person with severe suicide risk has suicidal thoughts, a specific plan that is dangerous and will be fatal, and also clearly states that he/she will attempt suicide.
Therefore, as part of the National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which is observed annually in September in the United States, let us help people gain a better understanding about suicide and assist them with information about the best ways to help someone with suicidal thoughts.
Warning signs of suicidal ideation
An individual who is suicidal generally gives warning signs and manifests clear symptoms of his/her condition. Therefore, in order to prevent suicide, it is important to be aware of these signs and ensure that the required help is offered at the right time. Some of the common signs that signify suicidal ideation are:
- Talking about suicide.
- Seeking access to dangerous means such as knife and gun.
- An unusual focus on death such as writing poems, talking about it, etc.
- Feelings of hopelessness and self-loathing.
- Setting things in place for family members.
- Unusual visits to friends or loved ones to bid adieu.
- Preferring to stay alone.
- Indulging in reckless behavior.
- Sudden happiness after being severely depressed.
Common myths about suicide
There are various myths surrounding suicide and suicidal ideation that can be misleading. That is why it is important to be aware of the truth so that one can seek proper help.
- Talking about suicide implies end of risk: It is commonly believed that a person talking about suicide will not actually do it. But, this does not always hold true. Because any individual who commits suicide gives some clue or warning signs to his/her loved ones. Thus, one should not ignore any such signs.
- Only psychotics commit suicide: Committing suicide is not limited to people who are unstable. Being upset, sad, depressed or in emotional pain can also trigger suicidal thoughts.
- Suicidal thoughts cannot be stopped: Believing that an individual’s decision to commit suicide cannot be turned around is incorrect. Suicidal thoughts are generally an outcome of despair and pain. Therefore, helping the person deal with his/her pain in a better way can definitely save a life.
- People who commit suicide do not seek help: This is not true. On the contrary, often, people who are on the edge, seek help. It is just that sometimes they lose the battle and give in to the negativity or symptoms of a severe mental health condition if any. However, it is important to continue to reach out to such people and do one’s best to turn their decision around.
- Talking about suicide increases risk: Discussing suicide does not lead to installing suicidal thoughts in an individual’s mind. Rather, the reverse is true. Talking openly about this issue can help curb the number of people committing suicide.
Helping someone deal with suicidal thoughts
If you suspect that someone close, like a loved one or friend, is acting strangely and/ or contemplating suicide, then it is important to try and reach out to them and help them. Wondering how to help a suicidal friend? Read on to know a few simple tips that can help you understand how to help someone that’s suicidal.
- Talking about suicide:
Rather than avoiding talking about suicide out of fear that it might firm up someone’s mind to take the extreme step, talk to them. Having an open and honest conversation about what is bothering the individual could actually help them see their situation with another perspective and may even lighten their burden. Doing this gives the person an opportunity to express his/her concerns and prevents piling up of negative feelings.
- Respond quickly:
It is important to try and gauge the seriousness of the intent to commit suicide by a person. It could be that often one understands the gravity of the situation very late, however, instead of panicking or despairing, evaluate the immediate danger to the person and seek appropriate help. If there is an immediate risk of committing suicide, it is important to ensure that the person is not left alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which offers free and confidential support 24/7 to people in such situations. They also are experts in giving prevention tips for the one affected and his/her loved ones, as well as best practices to be followed by professionals.
- Offer compassion:
Lend a listening ear to the one dealing with suicidal thoughts. By being compassionate and sensitive to his/her needs one might be able to win their trust and offer the required support with ease. Encourage the person to stay strong and fight against the difficult emotions that may be welling up in him/her.
- Validate his/her feelings:
It is important for the person offering support to be patient and calm when talking to the individual with suicidal thoughts. The best answer to how to help someone stop thinking suicidal is to validate his/her thoughts and feelings and not negate them. It is important to ensure that the person is not made to feel that his/her thoughts are irrational or do not make sense.
- Be proactive:
If one suspects that a friend or loved one is very low and is feeling suicidal, then it is important to be ready with the required help. In fact, one can always call the person, drop him/her a message and go out for a random meeting so as to uplift his/her mood and spirits. Reach out for help.
- Prepare a safety plan:
It is important to keep a crisis plan ready in case an emergency or crisis situation arises. One should always be aware of the possible triggers of the condition in a friend such as extreme stress or alcohol addiction and help them avoid the same. Do not forget to keep handy the doctor or therapist, friends and family members contact numbers.
- Encourage positive lifestyle:
Motivate the person to develop a healthy lifestyle such as by eating a healthy diet, taking proper rest, going for a walk or getting out in the sun for at least 30 minutes per day. Exercising on a regular basis can also prove beneficial since it promotes emotional and mental well-being, enabling the release of endorphins and also relieves stress.
- Keep potential means of suicide at bay: If a loved one develops suicidal thoughts, it is important to ensure that all potential means of suicide such as knives, pills and razors are kept away from him/her. This will not only reduce the risk of committing suicide but also help ensure that the person stays safe.
- Seek professional help:
If a person has developed a strong desire to commit suicide, it is important to motivate him/her to seek professional help immediately.
- Keep a tab on treatment:
Once the person has consulted a mental health expert, it is important to keep a check on his/her behavior, whether he/she is taking medications on time, etc. Make sure that the person does not develop a laid back attitude when seeking treatment as this might even worsen his/her condition.
Things to remember when talking to a suicidal person
There are certain things that one should keep in mind when talking to someone who is suicidal. Some of the common do’s and don’ts are:
What to do
- Be compassionate when expressing love and care for the concerned person.
- Listen patiently to what the person has to say.
- Do not be judgmental. Instead, be calm and stay positive.
- Reassure him/her that life can be better and help is available.
- Take everything he/she says seriously as this can help win trust and get proper help.
What not to do
- Avoid statements like “your suicide will hurt your loved ones” or “you have so much to do in your life.”
- Do not appear shocked or lecture him/her about the situation.
- Do not ask for an explanation for his/her suicidal thoughts.
- One should not blame himself/herself for the loved one’s problems.
Understanding and being aware of how to help a person that’s suicidal could help save lives. One should understand that feeling blue is fine up to an extent. When it leads one to indulge in self-harm or suicidal ideation, it is not healthy. If you know someone who is at a risk of committing suicide, please feel free to consult a mental health practitioner immediately or contact the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Remember you can make a difference.