Each of us can support someone while finding their reasons for living by sharing hope and letting them know they are not alone. Our role is less about “fixing the problem” or convincing them to stay, and more about being present and listening as they look for their own reasons for living.
While there are resources available to help, and some are listed at the end of this article, you may be the first step your friend or family member takes on this journey. So in that moment, knowing the right things to say can be invaluable.
Suicide Can Be Prevented
In support of National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Week, we offer this advice on talking with someone who has come to you with thoughts of suicide.
Be calm. Don’t panic. Talk to your friend in a calm, reassuring manner. Let them know you’re taking them seriously, and you appreciate that they are reaching out to you.
Validate their feelings. Do your best to make sure they know you understand their feelings, and you’re sorry they are suffering. But glad they came to you. Say things like: “Nothing you’re going through changes how I feel about you, and how awesome I think you are.” “I love you no matter what, and we’re going to get through this together.” This will make them more comfortable opening up to you and continuing the conversation that was so hard to begin.
Listen more than you speak. Let your friend know you want to hear more about how they’re feeling and what they’re going through. Listen actively by expressing curiosity and interest in the details. Silence can also be useful, says Core Recovery Founder Jillian Vanselow. “Try not to fill the void with nervous talk. Silence can be soothing as well.”
Ask if they have an intent to act. If you think someone’s thinking about suicide, ask them directly. Research shows it will not put the idea in their head or push them into action. Sometimes they may even be relieved someone cares enough to hear about their experience with suicidal thoughts. However, the way you ask is also essential. Don’t phrase your question in a way that’s passing judgment or imposing guilt on them. Stay as positive as you can by telling them you care about them and how others care, and you want to do whatever you can to help.
If they answer yes to your question, again, stay calm. Reassure them that help is available and that these feelings signal that it’s time to talk to a mental health professional. Offer your assistance in helping them find resources to help, and assure them that they are not alone.
Make sure they’re in their “safe space” – As you begin to end the conversation, make sure your friend is in their “safe space” before leaving them, says Vanselow. Reiterate that you are so glad they felt comfortable talking to you about their feelings. Remind them that you’ll continue to be here for them and reach out when they feel low.
If you think your friend is in immediate danger:
Stay with them
Help them remove lethal means.
Maricopa Crisis hotline at (480) 784-1500
Firmly and assertively encourage them to seek help or to contact their doctor or therapist.
COVID-19 has pushed us into unchartered territory. We have to use common sense to keep our loved ones safe. When does it become essential (and the safest option) to offer comfort to a person in a suicidal crisis? There are no easy answers, but we must remember we are not alone.