IF A FAMILY MEMBER IS SUICIDAL
Developing an understanding relationship is key to helping a person’s risk to suicide, since the person will most likely not divulge sensitive information if there is a fear of being judged, criticized, or ignored.
- Talk About it! Asking about suicide will not put the ideas in his/her head and will not make the situation worse.
- Listen and discuss coping strategies at times when your loved one is not suicidal.
- Offer emotional support by expressing concern, care, and willingness to help.
- Ask the person if they have a plan to kill themselves. If yes then:
- Seek professional help immediately, especially if the person is not thinking straight.
- Attempt to get the person to promise he/she will not act on these plans without first talking to a hotline (800) 273-TALK (8255) or mental health professional.
- Remove any objects that can be used for harm (guns, pills, razors, etc.).
- If you don’t know what to do, call a professional, such as the police, suicide hotline (800) 273-TALK (8255), or mental health professional.
Put yourself in the person’s shoes. How would you want to be treated? What is the person trying to say? What feelings might the person be experiencing? Practicing empathy does not condone the suicidal thoughts or behavior but it is the first step in starting the process of openly discussing the issues. Distancing yourself or avoiding the questions will not make the issue go away.
Do not focus on what you should say, just listen and give indication that you are following the conversation. Pay attention to your body language and facial expressions, are you conveying warmth and a genuine interest in understanding the cause of the pain/distress? Or, are you multi-tasking and thinking about all the other stuff you have to do?
These are questions that have more than a one-word answer. The goal is to let the person talk and keep the conversation going by saying very little. Indirect closed-ended questions like, “You’re not thinking of committing suicide, are you?” indicates the answer you hope to hear by prompting the person to say “no.” Therefore, sending a message that you are uncomfortable discussing suicide.
Simple “door-openers” when a person is talking will help with the conversation, such as, ”It takes a lot of courage to share your feelings and I appreciate your honesty.” Or something very simple, “Wow you have a lot going on, thank you for opening up to me.” Just be genuine and use your own words.
Giving the person 100 reasons of why they should live, will most likely only cause them to give you 101 reasons of why they should not. Statements that are moralizing or judging such as “do you realize the pain you will cause,” “think of how fortunate you are,” “it is against your religion,” will only end the conversation and may cause the person to feel more isolated and depressed adding to the problem.
Similar to arguing, people sometimes want to give false reassurances such as, “it will be okay” or “everyone has problems.” These statements do not address the torment the person is experiencing and belittles the person’s feelings and experiences. Therefore, the person may stop communicating with you at this point.
After thoroughly following the statements above has the person identified or diagnosed the problem in their own words and identified their major stressors? You cannot give them this answer! They have to come to the answer on their own. Once this has happened, you can start exploring ways they have handled the similar stresses in the past. Now that their life’s situations have been reexamined are there no alternative solutions? What has worked before?
What matters to the person? What do they value? Help them complete a Safety Plan identifying safe people they can call, safe activities they can do, and working on reducing stressors.
Resource: Grollman, Earl A. Suicide: Prevention, Intervention, Postvention. 2nd Print.
If talking does not work then call the police or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.