Helping a suicidal friend or relative…
Be quiet and listen!
If someone is feeling depressed or suicidal, our first response is to try to help. We offer advice, share our own experiences, try to find solutions.
We’d do better to be quiet and listen. People who feel suicidal don’t want answers or solutions. They want a safe place to express their fears and anxieties, to be themselves.
Listening – really listening – is not easy. We must control the urge to say something – to make a comment, add to a story or offer advice. We need to listen not just to the facts that the person is telling us but to the feelings that lie behind them. We need to understand things from their perspective, not ours.
Here are some points to remember if you are helping a person who feels suicidal.
What do people who feel suicidal want?
- Someone to listen. Someone who will take time to really listen to them. Someone who won’t judge, or give advice or opinions, but will give their undivided attention.
- Someone to trust. Someone who will respect them and won’t try to take charge. Someone who will treat everything in complete confidence.
- Someone to care. Someone who will make themselves available, put the person at ease and speak calmly. Someone who will reassure, accept and believe. Someone who will say, “I care.”
What do people who feel suicidal not want?
- To be alone. Rejection can make the problem seem ten times worse. Having someone to turn to makes all the difference. Just listen.
- To be advised. Lectures don’t help. Nor does a suggestion to “cheer up”, or an easy assurance that “everything will be okay.” Don’t analyze, compare, categorize or criticize.Just listen.
- To be interrogated. Don’t change the subject, don’t pity or patronize. Talking about feelings is difficult. People who feel suicidal don’t want to be rushed or put on the defensive. Just listen.
Studies show that 4 out of 5 suicide attempts have been preceded by clear warning signs, make sure you know them. Keep reading to learn what suicide warning signs to look for, including warning signs or indications of a suicide plan.
Suicide is a very real problem. With many pressures and a variety emotional, social and family issues to confront, many find themselves having suicidal thoughts. Part of averting a suicide is being involved and watching for suicide warning signs. It is also important to note that many of the suicide warning signs are also indications of depression.
Suicide warning signs
- Disinterest in favorite extracurricular activities
- Problems at work and losing interest in a job
- Substance abuse, including alcohol and drug (illegal and legal drugs) use
- Behavioral problems
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Sleep changes
- Changes in eating habits
- Begins to neglect hygiene and other matters of personal appearance
- Emotional distress brings on physical complaints (aches, fatigues, migraines)
- Hard time concentrating and paying attention
- Declining grades in school
- Loss of interest in schoolwork
- Risk taking behaviors
- Complains more frequently of boredom
- Does not respond as before to praise
Not all of these suicide warning signs will be present in cases of possible suicide. There are many cases in which a good student commits suicide. It is important to watch for two or three signs as indications of depression, or even suicidal thoughts.
Suicide warning signs: indications of a suicide plan
- Actually says, “I’m thinking of committing suicide” or “I want to kill myself” or “I wish I could die.”
- There are also verbal hints that could indicate suicidal thoughts or plans. These include such phrases as: “I want you to know something, in case something happens to me” or “I won’t trouble you anymore.”
- They begin giving away favorite belongings, or promising them to friends and family members.
- Throws away important possessions.
- Shows signs of extreme cheerfulness following periods of depression.
- Creates suicide notes.
- Expresses bizarre or unsettling thoughts on occasion.
Understanding that suicide warning signs are serious calls for help is important. Many share their thoughts and feelings in a desperate attempt to be acknowledged. In many cases, they don’t know how to deal with their feelings and problems and are looking for someone to help them find assistance. Acknowledging these warning signs and seeking help for the problem, and offering support to anyone who is working through his or her issues is very important, and can help prevent suicide. Suicide is a very real danger, and heeding the warning signs can truly save a life.
Get help, talk to a healthcare professional or councillor as soon as possible. They are the people best equipped to help your friend in this situation.