How to Help Someone Who Expresses Suicidal Thoughts
From physical suffering to hopelessness and mental illness, many different factors and reasons may lead a person to have suicidal ideation. But it’s one thing to think about ending your life and another to open up to someone and share those private thoughts.
When someone talks to you about suicide or makes statements that imply a plan to kill themselves, it can be alarming, confusing and overwhelming. You may fear that reacting the wrong way may make things worse.
Here’s what to do when someone expresses suicidal thoughts:
- Take it seriously. Even if the person talking about suicide appears to be joking, they may just be making light of how they feel to gauge your reaction. Therefore, it’s best not to take chances and take the statement seriously. It’s also a common misconception that people who talk about suicide won’t follow through with it. Almost every person who attempted suicide or killed themself had given some warning or exhibited suicidal symptoms. Therefore, by expressing their suicidal thoughts, they may be pleading for help.
- Ask questions with sensitivity and support. Once someone has expressed a suicidal thought, take that opportunity to get them to talk more immediately. Empathize and explore their reasons for feeling hopeless. Ask about how they’re coping with the troubles in their life. Offer emotional support and don’t add to their despair with negativity. Ask how they feel about seeking professional help.
- Don’t downplay the situation. Don’t change the subject or try to offer a quick fix, such as advice to ignore the problem and hope it will go away. People with suicidal thoughts feel they’ve explored and exhausted all their options. The last thing they need to hear is that they shouldn’t feel how they do when there is so much in life to be grateful for. When you downplay the seriousness of their feelings, they may feel rejected, criticized and unheard.
- Recognize your limits. Whether the person expressing plans of harming themselves is someone you love or barely know, the natural response is to keep them safe. However, you may not always have the means or experience to create a crisis plan or ensure they’re never left alone. The best thing you can do is recognize what you can offer. Don’t over-promise or make guarantees where you can’t commit.
- Encourage them to communicate. Let them express themselves without judgment. Listen intently and don’t interrupt. It’s taken a lot of courage on their part to open up. Assure them that there’s no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Convince them that others beyond you will listen.
By showing them respect and acknowledging their feelings, they may consider communicating with a trained professional and accept assistance. You can also help by researching local treatment options and experts who specialize in suicide prevention.
If you or a loved one needs help with any of these issues, Communicare is here for you. Please take a look at our services and don’t hesitate to contact us! You can call our 24-hour Crisis Line at any time for anyone experiencing a substance abuse, mental health or IDD crisis: 866-837-7521.