Knowing how to help a loved one with suicidal tendencies can literally save a life. It is estimated that 800,000 people commit suicide every year according to the World Health Organization. Though, it can be difficult to understand what motivates people to take their own life, suicidal thoughts come from tremendous pain and suffering.
Why do People Develop Suicidal Tendencies?
Suicide results from conditions such as major depressive disorder, manic depressive disorder, substance abuse, and eating disorders. Often, people with suicidal thoughts do not wish to take their lives but wish to end their unbearable suffering. Sometimes, they genuinely believe that the world would be better off without them, or that there is no hope of the pain going away. These thoughts create tunnel vision that obscures hope for healing.
Recognize the Warning Signs and Risk Factors
It is estimated that 80% of people that commit suicide give some sign of their intentions before taking action. It is imperative to recognize the warning signs in order to respond immediately and get the suicidal person the help they need. Some warning signs include talking about hopelessness, using drugs more often, isolating from friends and family, and giving away possessions. Though recognizing the warning signs is incredibly useful in most situations, sometimes suicide can come out of the blue, for the suicidal person wants to keep their plans secret. In this case, it helps to recognize the risk factors that make a person more likely to take their lives. These include a history of childhood abuse, suicide in the family, and aggressive tendencies. Educating oneself about warning signs and risk factors will aid in recognizing the risk.
Take Action Immediately
It can be difficult to act in the situation, especially if one feels they may make it worse, but the best thing to do it is to take action immediately to become a catalyst for healing. Suicidal people are often reluctant to seek out help for a variety of reasons such as a fear of repercussions at work or school, criticism from other people, or involuntary hospitalization. Immediate action, caring and assistance can and often will save a life.
Ask the Person Questions and Lend a Listening Ear
Suicide is often seen as a taboo subject, yet it affects people of all age, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. It can affect both the successful and the disempowered. Though it may seem awkward to discuss the subject, it is important to bring it up clearly and plainly. A person can start to help someone with suicidal tendencies by asking questions to assess level of risk. It is a myth that asking someone about suicide pushes them to consider it. The suicidal person likely has been wanting someone to talk to but has been afraid to bring up the topic due to fear of rejection. Talking with them will help them to work through the emotions and reconsider their intended actions.
Listen to them attentively and do not interrupt. It is important give them the opportunity to share their pain with someone instead of living with the pain all alone. Often, they want someone to show that they care about them. When they unload their burdens, do not pass judgment, place blame, or shame the person. Their emotions are real, so give them respect and acknowledge their feelings. It is important not to be patronizing or try to change their feelings. Avoid phrases such as “but you have so much to live for?”, “why can’t you just snap out of it?” or “things could be worse.” Though, it is imperative to offer help, remember that this does not replace the help of trained professionals.
Get Professional Help
The person may express their suicidal thoughts and ask another person to keep them secret, but confidentiality is less important than saving a person’s life. Getting a professional involved can help give everyone a clearer perspective of the situation and available resources. If a person is considering suicide, professional psychological help is essential.
Communicate with the suicidal person that they need to make an appointment to talk with a therapist or counselor. If they are resistant, suggest that they find help from a support group, crisis center, family member, or another trusted person. Offer to help them to take the necessary steps to receive this help.
Encourage the person to call the national suicide prevention hotline, 00-273-TALK (800-273-8255) where they can initiate contact with a trained counselor. If the situation is really severe, and the person is in immediate danger of harming themselves, they will likely need to be hospitalized until they are no longer in danger.
Remove Potentially Dangerous Objects
A person with suicidal tendencies should not have access to firearms, sharp objects, or certain medications that can cause harm if an overdose occurs. If they require a medication that they could cause suicide, someone should be responsible for safeguarding it and dispensing in small doses as prescribed. It is also important also to encourage them to quit using drugs or alcohol, if they are at risk of overdosing.
Suicidal tendencies should always be taken seriously and never played down. Though, the suicidal loved one may feel like they will never get better, encourage them that healing from mental-illness is possible. A little hope can go a long way and you can play a critical role in returning an individual to health and moving a life forward.