Why Being Open About Suicide Can Prevent Loss of Life
CW: Contains sensitive discussion on suicide from the start and throughout.
What Is suicide?
I have used the word 'suicide' intentionally because I believe that being direct is the most useful method to understand what is happening. It is crucial not to use language that may cause confusion. By this, I mean that being genuine can make the process of navigating the issue much clearer and avoid miscommunication. Of course, it is still important to remain empathic and respond with sensitivity.
What Does It Feel Like To Be Suicidal?
Anyone can have thoughts of suicide. It is not unique to any one group of people or section of society. Suicidal thoughts can be fleeting. For example, someone may feel incredibly low for a while and consider suicide as a way out. Someone may experience enduring feelings of despair. Whatever that experience feels like for an individual, it is important that they are heard.
Everyone has different experiences of suicidal thoughts. For me, a diagnosis of a mental health condition following the completion of my undergraduate degree seven years ago, left me feeling as though my whole world had been turned upside down. I was devastated and felt incredibly hopeless about my future. I felt as though I was a terrible burden on my family and on society in general. Life felt unbearable and left me with thoughts that the only way to escape my problems was to die by suicide.
It is with the support of those by my side, however, that got me through those dark thoughts and that have enabled me to continue living.
Perhaps you could be the support for someone experiencing similar thoughts?
1. Start A Conversation...
If someone reveals they feel suicidal or intend to die by suicide, it is incredibly important to talk about these thoughts. Crucially, the conversation should be open and honest. If you have concerns, raise them. Asking questions is essential so as to know how they are thinking and to elicit any information regarding potential plans. There are websites that provide ideas on how to start a conversation on suicide provided at the bottom of this page, which you may find useful when starting, what can be a very challenging topic.
2. Look After Your Own Wellbeing
This is high up on the list of top tips in supporting someone with suicidal thoughts because it is essential that you look after yourself too! Communication with a suicidal individual can be an exhausting and emotional situation. It can elicit strong emotions such as anger, sadness, frustration and helplessness. Therefore, it is crucial you practice self-care to maintain your own wellbeing. This can include simple things such as getting enough sleep, eating well and maintaining strong social connections with other people. Perhaps ask yourself, how am I feeling right now? Am I prioritising my own needs? Is this situation becoming overwhelming? As the well-known maxim goes, if you do not look after yourself, you cannot look after the needs of others.
3. What Are Their Motivations In Life?
Remind the individual of their protective factors. What this means is reminding the individual of the things that keep them motivated in life. Whether that be caring for children or other family members, being a friend, a colleague. Whatever they bring to the world, remind them of what they have to offer to the world. We are all uniquely incredible and we must all remember that.
4. Remain Non-Judgemental
If an individual has disclosed information regarding thoughts or intentions of suicide, it can stir up a range of emotions for you as a supporter. You may feel angry, sad, frustrated or helpless and it can be easy to project these feelings on to the individual. However, it has usually taken a lot of courage for them to speak up about their thoughts and reacting negatively by shouting or becoming visibly upset can lead the individual to withdraw from conversation and perhaps even shutdown altogether. It may be possible to prevent this if you respond with consideration for the individual's feelings. Often a suicidal individual can already feel guilty and be reluctant to open up. Perhaps you could take time away from the situation and think about the appropriate response if you feel unable to respond appropriately at that time. By doing this, you may be able to think more clearly and establish open dialogue. After all the aim is to find the best way to support the individual.
5. Seeking Professional Help
Many people worry about seeking professional help for themselves or someone they know. However, it is worth considering they are there, not to judge, but to listen and to identify areas where you may need additional support. Today, there are lots of ways that support can be offered. Counselling, peer support, medication, carer support as well as crisis interventions are just some of the many options that may be available. The first step is usually to make an appointment with the individual's GP where they will be able to signpost you to the most appropriate support. It is worth remembering from top tip 2 that it is important to invest in yourself and find ways to manage what can be a very painful experience. If you also need support, there will be no judgement in that. In fact, kudos to you for recognising your limitations! It is a brave and admirable thing to acknowledge that you cannot be everything to everyone and that we all need some support sometimes.
Experiencing suicidal thoughts is a sign of mental health crisis. If the person is in immediate danger it is important to get them urgent help. If they are under a local mental health team, you should contact them. Otherwise, you should either call 999 (in the UK) or take them to the nearest emergency department.