Talking to Someone Who May be Suicidal
It can be our instinct to shy away from the word ‘suicide’. The word can be shocking and scary. We usually say it in hushed tones. Though it may seem counter intuitive, the best thing we can do is to say it out loud, candidly and openly. Research has shown that speaking about suicide directly and openly with someone who is considering it lessens their risk of carrying out the act. It is important to ask the question directly. Practice saying it out loud: “Are you thinking of suicide?” or “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”. It will certainly feel weird, it will sound intense, but it is important to get a handle on this. If someone in your life is having suicidal thoughts, asking them in this way is the first step to getting them the support they need.
When you ask someone directly if they are thinking of killing themselves, you may very well be the first person who has ever given them the chance to say it out loud. You may be the first person who has asked them how they are doing and given them the chance to let everything out. When asked if they are thinking of suicide, someone who is not having suicidal thoughts will almost never be offended. They will assure you they are not and usually share what is going on with them that may have given you that impression. If someone is having suicidal thoughts, being asked directly usually gives them permission to say it out loud, to express their darkest thoughts and to make a connection with you in that moment. It is a secret and a burden they may have been carrying for some time.
Someone saying any of the following (especially if they are exhibiting any of the signs I've mentioned in my social media posts this week) should prompt you to dig a little deeper and ask if they are suicidal:
· “I just can’t do it anymore.”
· “I don’t see a way out of this.”
· “I can’t go on.”
· “I want to disappear”
· “If anything happens to me, take care of _______”
Statements like these can be a warning sign that someone is thinking of ending their life. If this is the case, asking them about suicide directly is the first step to getting them the support they need.
Here are a few other tips to keep in mind:
· Find a quiet, private and safe space where you can chat with them
· Remain non-judgmental and do not react with shock
· Focus on your care and compassion for them; explain that you want to stop them because you care about them, and not because it is “wrong”
· Do not assure them they have so much to live for or that it gets better; for someone in a dark place, it may feel completely hopeless. Meet them where they are emotionally
· Ask open-ended questions and truly explore their feelings. Find out how they came to feel this way as opposed to trying to convince them not to do it
· Ask if they have a plan, ask if they have the means to carry out that plan
· Explore what supports and resources other than you they have in their life
· Connect them with emergency services if they feel they cannot keep themselves safe
Talking about suicide can be daunting. It can be difficult to bring up, but saying the word out loud could save someone’s life. Do not shy away from asking someone about it, especially if they are someone close to you and they exhibit some warning signs. Be compassionate, be empathetic and remember that you are a safe and understanding space for them. Building that trust and connection is the key to helping them get the support they need.