Talking to a suicidal person can be challenging. After pinpointing the suicide warning signs that we have covered in a previous blog, how do you really respond if someone you love may really be suicidal?
It’s important to note that there is no single cause for suicide. Often several stressors and phsyical and mental health issues converge to bring a person to a state where he or she feels hopeless, helpless, and in despair.
While depression is the most common mental health issue associated with suicide, it is often undiagnosed and untreated. In fact, here in the Philippines, people with depression may simply be brushed off with: “Stop thinking about sad things!” “Just cheer up!” “Get yourself together” and so many dismissive things. This is because stigma is heavily attached to depression, among many other mental health issues. And the same can be said when it comes to suicide.
Still, with the wake of Kate Spade’s and Anthony Bourdain’s deaths due to suicide, the issue is once again put on the spotlight.
Hitting closer to home, what if you have someone you know who is suicidal? How do you respond and what can you do to stop them?
How to Talk to a Suicidal Person
If you suspect someone may be suicidal, ask them directly about it. There’s no use beating around the bush and risk being misinterpreted. Try not to avoid using the word “suicide” as well. Ask the question matter-of-factly, without dread. Most especially, don’t ask questions with a negative judgement or a prejudiced undertone. Be direct and to the point, and express your concern.
Sample questions are: “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” “Are you thinking about committing suicide?”
If you appear confident, this can be reassuring to the suicidal person. Please remove from your minds the misconception that someone who talks about suicide is not really going to do it. Remember, a person who talks about suicide may just express how extremely awful they are feeling.
More Tips on Talking to a Suicidal Person
You should also consider the following:
- Tell the suicidal person that you care about them
- Let them know that you want to help
- Express sincere empathy with what they’re going through
- If you can’t express empathy right there and then, considering talking about the person’s problem and understanding just where they’re coming from
- Tell the person that suicidal thoughts are common but not necessarily to be acted on
- Clearly tell them that suicidal thoughts may be associated with a treatable mental disorder
- Let them know that there is still hope for them
It’s true that suicidal thoughts and expressions are often a plea for help. It’s important that you take them seriously. Encourage the person to talk and ask them open-ended questions as much as you can. They need an opportunity to express themselves and talk about their feelings. This can provide them the relief they need to release overwhelming emotions or thoughts.
You can also discuss ways for them to deal with problems that seem impossible to overcome for them.
How to Tell if a Suicide Risk is Serious
Ask them three questions:
- Have you decided how you plan to kill yourself?
- When do you plan to do it?
- Have you taken the steps to secure what needs to be done to carry out your plan?
By asking them these questions, you gauge their level of planning. The higher the level of planning, the more serious the risk. However, it’s also important to note that the absence of a plan may not also be an indication that they will not carry out the suicide. Therefore, all suicidal thoughts must be taken seriously.
If they made attempts in the past or are using alcohol and drugs, the risk for carrying out the suicide is also higher.
How to Keep a Suicidal Person Safe
A person who is actively suicidal must not be left alone. You must stay with them at all times, or arrange for someone to do so if you can’t. Give the person a safety contact number to call anytime. This can be you, a trusted family member, a professional, or a suicide lifeline.