Some indiviudals may find this post triggering. Please take care of yourself and be mindful that you may find this post may cause distress. You can find support here
As it is World Suicide Prevention Day, I wanted to share with you some information I have learnt throughout my training as a Counsellor and as a Samaritan. Specifically in regards to how to respond and react to someone who has shared with you that they are feeling suicidal or are having suicidal thoughts.
I know that sometimes people don’t know how to respond to being told someone they love/know/care about is feeling suicidal and not necessarily because they don’t want to be supportive – they just don’t know. I really hope that this information gives you some tools and confidence in handling these difficult conversations. It’s not easy for us, but it’s far worse for the person who is disclosing. Take care of yourself.
Do not over react
I appreciate this may be difficult. I recall in my training that Suicide was almost spoken about in a normalised way. Looking back I think this is because 95% of all the clients I have seen have had suicidal thoughts or plans. It’s painfully so very common.
If someone is feeling brave enough to come to you and tell you that they are thinking about or are planning to end their lives do you’re absolute best to not show an ounce of judgement on your face or in your voice. Do not gasp, appear mortified or panic. Take a second if you need to and just state how you’re feeling at hearing this information and ask them to explain the events that have led to this outcome. If it’s something you’ve heard before, do not become impatient, roll your eyes or act like it’s not a big deal. It is.
Remaining somewhat neutral in response will help build trust as that person will not feed judged. In order for anyone to trust you, regardless of their situation, they have to feel accepted. I know this will feel weird because suicide is so frightening, but try your best.
Keep your beliefs to yourself
Do not impose your own belief system surrounding suicide onto that person. Do not say anything that takes away from the actual person themselves and their experience. Instead, speak to them about them. Ask them about their life, recent events, recent feelings, who is their support system, can you be a part of that support system. The wonderful Fiona shared a moving piece in regards to how Suicide is not Selfish on her blog, I’ll link it here for you.
Actively listen to what they are telling you. Listen to the story they have. You don’t need to make any of their story about you, try to keep it with them. Allow them the space to get these feelings or emotions out of their head. You don’t have to give advice or suggest another support group – although you can if you feel it’s the best for that person. If they’re telling you then that means something. Listening is game changer.
Create a scale
One thing I have done with every client is create a scale. If they have informed me that they’re feeling suicidal or that suicidal thoughts are taking over I ask them on a scale of 1-10, how bad are those thoughts right now? Each week I check in with that scale. If that number is too high one week then that client will not leave me until it is lower. When they leave me I remind them of the support that is available if those thoughts become too much. You potentially may be able to do something similar if that person has trusted you with this information.
When appropriate, ask what their plans are. For that day, week, month and so on. People who have plans are less likely to commit suicide. Obviously that isn’t a fool proof way of knowing 100% but it can be an effective indication. If someone has nothing on then maybe make a plan with that person yourself. Keep an eye on them, trust your gut.
Educate yourself on who to contact if you are advised plans are going ahead. This will probably be the police but knowing family members or other friends contact information may be useful.
I have shared with clients that I would miss them if they took their own life. I would be upset, I want to see them there week after week. I’m invested in them. This isn’t about imposing my own ideology in regards to suicide on to them but more me wanting to counteract their belief system that no one cares for them. Share this with that person, but be mindful not to turn it into a guilt trip.
It may still happen
These are just ways to help you respond and have some difficult conversations. Suicide still has an air of taboo around it. If you can minimise judgement, listen and support someone you are doing the most that you can. If that person does eventually go on to take their own life it isn’t because you missed a step. Please be kind to yourself if this happens and be kind to them.
Finally, if you are suicidal and your reading this. My heart truly goes out to you that life has made you feel this way. If there was a way I could give you a squeeze and show you all the wonderful things you are then I would, in a heartbeat. You deserved more than what you have been given and I’m so sorry you’ve been let down. I myself tried to take my own life when I was 15 but I’m not going to pretend that automatically makes me understand what you feel. I know I’m just some person on the internet but I am a person, who cares for other people – including you. I’m not just talk, feel free to test me on that. I hope, if you’re able to, that you can talk to me or anyone else to just get those thoughts out of your head. I’m not here to change your decision, I’m just here so that you aren’t alone. Please reach out.