Suicide is a difficult subject to talk about… there are those that empathise with it and those that don’t; those who will talk about it and those that avoid it; even some therapists find it hard to deal with; but it happens!
It is part of the world we inhabit and by ignoring it, we are not preventing it.
Whilst there will always be people who have suicidal thoughts, thoughts are not reality!
We can all provide support by simply talking about suicide, rather than feeling awkward and veering away from the conversation.
A simple act of support can make the difference between someone taking their life and not; especially as the solution, in many cases, is established by treating a short-term issue!
Attending the Celebrating Suicide Prevention event in Wolverhampton last month made me realise how many people are scared of talking to someone with suicidal thoughts, including those in supportive professions!
The truth is you don’t have to be scared! Just be there and actively listen, take some time to be in the moment and let them talk.
With this in mind, here are some do’s and don’ts to prepare you for such conversations…
- Be direct with the person concerned, talk openly and freely about suicide, ask the question… it’s okay to do so!
- Be willing to listen, actively.
- Allow them to be open about their feelings.
- Offer empathy, not sympathy – empathy is trying to see the situation from their viewpoint, not pitying them and diminishing their self-worth.
- Ask if they’ve felt like this before and if so, what helped them get through it?
- Ask about their support network, get other people involved.
- Let the conversation happen, even if it is really negative in tone, the fact it’s happening means something positive is coming from it.
- Let the person know you care, that he/she is not alone.
- Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary.
- Let the person know that his or her life is important to you.
- Seek support yourself afterwards, talking to someone with suicidal thoughts can impact you as well.
- Dismiss what people say as trivial.
- Ask why… many people can’t give a reason as to why they feel as they do and can feel threatened when asked this question. This can cause a defensive reaction or shut down the conversation completely.
- Be sworn to secrecy! If a person says they are going to take their life, reassure them but seek support from others, professionals such as Samaritans, doctors, the NHS, counsellors and, if you think necessary, the police (check out the advice sites listed below for more information).
- Offer hope that alternatives are available and TAKE NO ACTION!
- Avoid the subject.
- Make their issues or feelings your own. Firstly, you can take away the importance of their situation and close the conversation down. Secondly, making the situation yours and taking responsibility could lead to feelings of guilt and blame afterwards.
- Be judgmental.
- Debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or feelings are good or bad, the conversation is about the person’s feelings and thoughts not the morals of society.
- Lecture on the value of life. As mentioned in some of the points above, we cannot ignore the person at the centre of this and how they are feeling – they are the most important thing!
- Offer to fix the problem. If you do and you can’t solve it, you will let that person down and increase their negative feelings.
Further help on suicide
Whilst these points break down some of the myths around supporting someone with suicidal thoughts, the list is not exhaustive!
Further information can be found on the links below…
If you’ve got any views on what’s been written here, as usual, get in touch!
You can find my email address on my profile.
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