How to support someone who is suicidal

So, last week I wrote about the potential signs to look out for in someone who is feeling suicidal. This week I am going to write about how to support someone once you know that they are feeling suicidal.


As I mentioned last week, suicide does not discriminate, it can impact anyone, from any family, in any career, and from any walk of life. There are many reasons that one might feel suicidal, some of which were touched upon last week, such as trauma, financial difficulties, relationship break down, and so on. But there are other causes as well; depression can be caused by societal pressures, but it can also be a caused by a biological or hormonal imbalances in the body. Suicidal thoughts can be the result of a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar depression, but they can also come about because of life and societal pressures.

So what if it's for attention?

There is the age-old argument that those who threaten suicide are just looking for attention and the behaviour should be ignored until it goes away. Of course, threatening suicide is not a healthy way to gain the attention or care of others, but something has to be terribly wrong if this is what it has come to. If someone is threatening suicide or even attempting suicide in order to get care from someone else, then why are we denying them this care.


There is the argument that by 'indulging' the individual, by showing them care and attention, we are encouraging their 'suicidal tendencies' and they will begin this cycle of threatening suicide or feeling suicidal when they are lacking in care or attention from others.


This may well be true, but isn't it better to help the individual in that moment and then help them to seek professional help later to break this cycle? What would happen if you ignored the suicidal behaviour as a means of trying to break their unhealthy way of relating to others, and the person did commit suicide?


Tips for supporting someone who is suicidal

Remember that you are just one person. You cannot do it all. You cannot hold the weight of this on your own and you deserve to seek help too. Whether you confide in a friend, parent, sibling, or professional, you need someone who can support you while you are supporting your loved one.


If the person is at immediate risk of death, then you need to get them to an Accident and Emergency Room as soon as possible. This might mean driving them yourself or phoning for an ambulance. There is also the option of phoning NHS 111 in less immediate cases for medical advice, however if you are unsure then head for the emergency room.


If the person is not at immediate risk, then seeking advice from a professional phone line is advisable. Whether you are the one talking or you hand the phone to your loved one, it is often beneficial to get professional support, such as Samaritans (116 123).


At some point in time, whether you take the individual to the emergency room and seek medical attention or not, a conversation should happen. It is going to be a difficult conversation, but it needs to happen.


Talking about death, especially about suicide, is still very much taboo. Therefore, having suicidal thoughts can be an extremely lonely and isolating experience, not to mention terrifying. Having an open, honest, and non-judgemental conversation about how the individual is feeling can help to lessen these feelings of isolation.


Tips for 'the Conversation'

1. No Judgement. Having this conversation might reveal some quite confronting and scary thoughts and truths both to you and the individual that you are talking to. It is important that you and the individual feel safe and not judged when they are opening up. Try not to cut the other person off when they are talking, try not to place judgement on what they are saying.

2. Ask open-ended questions. It is important the the individual feels fully heard. This is a conversation that they may not have had before, and it is likely that they have been bottling up these negative feelings for a while. This needs to be a space in which they can express these feelings without fear of being judged negatively, without fear of being shut down, and without fear of further isolation.

3. Understanding rather than solutions. As much as you might want to support the individual with platitudes such as "It'll all get better soon", often these can be unhelpful and can be experienced as being shut down. This conversation is about allowing the other person to be understood, it's about you learning what the other person is experiencing rather than giving them advice. Ask questions that open up the bigger deeper conversations rather than cutting them off with advice. They might well know that going out with friends or exercising should make them feel better, but they might currently feel unable to do these things.

4. Frustration is not helpful. If you are someone that has never experienced depression or known someone else who has experienced depression, then you might find the conversation frustrating. As mentioned above, there are the typical solutions to feeling low such as exercising to increase endorphins etc, however when one is depressed even the act of getting in the shower each day feels like running a marathon. Going to the gym may not be a possibility right now, and you getting frustrated with them is likely to send them back into their shell.

5. Be gentle. It is likely that the individual has not talked to many people about these feelings, if anyone at all. Therefore the conversation might be incredibly painful, tearful, stilted, or even heated. The individual may actually not want to talk about it right then. If this is the case, let them know that you are ready to talk about it when they are ready.

6. Seek professional help. As mentioned earlier, it is always advisable to seek support for yourself as it is an incredibly difficult thing to support someone who wishes to end their life. However, it is equally important to encourage the individual to seek professional support. You cannot force them to do so, but you can encourage them, help them to find services that they can access, and normalise the process of seeking professional support.


As always, if you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please email me at amylaunder.counselling@gmail.com

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