How to help someone struggling with suicidal thoughts
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, but the truth is that there’s no wrong time to be discussing this critical issue.
Suicidal thoughts are more common than you might think, and all too often they are a silent killer – we don’t realise something is wrong until it’s too late.
This is why it’s so vital that we not only raise awareness of the reality of suicide, but also equip people with the tools they need to help those struggling.
To do this, we chatted with the team at Samaritans for a special episode of our mental health podcast, Mentally Yours, to get the tips we all need to know.
Here’s how to help someone who you think may be suicidal.
Make space to talk
If you’re worried about someone, don’t stay quiet out of awkwardness or fear.
Try to start a conversation when they’re comfortable and have some time to chat freely.
‘It’s important to try to give people the space to talk about things at a time and place that’s comfortable,’ Ben Phillips, head of service programmes at Samaritans, tells Metro.co.uk on the podcast.
It’s oh so easy for us to answer the ‘how are you?’ question with a quick ‘fine!’. Don’t accept the easy answer if you suspect it isn’t true. Ask again, making it clear that you’re genuinely there to listen and won’t judge if the answer isn’t ‘okay’.
Don’t be afraid to say ‘suicide’
There’s a lingering feeling among many of us that saying the word ‘suicide’ will ‘plant the idea’ in someone’s head. That’s not the case.
‘I don’t think you’re at risk of planting idea in someone’s head,’ says Ben. ‘I think the real risk is when people feel too isolated, or unable to talk about what’s in their head and what they might be going through or experiencing.’
It can help to be clear about what you’re worried about. Ask: ‘are you experiencing suicidal thoughts?’ or ‘are you thinking about harming yourself?’.
If you’re wrong, the worst that can happen is the person says no and it’s a bit uncomfortable. But if the person is suicidal, you need to know that. Asking directly will help.
If someone says they’re suicidal, take them seriously
‘If someone does open up and say they are feeling suicidal, the first thing to do is to trust them, to believe them,’ says Joe Bookbinder, media officer at Samaritans.
Don’t dismiss someone’s feelings or thoughts or fall into the trap of thinking they’re ‘just attention-seeking’. Take all expressions of suicidal thoughts seriously.
Remember you don’t need all the answers
Many of us have a tendency to think that if we hear someone is struggling, we need to fix all their problems.
The issue with this way of thinking is that when we’re not confident of solutions, we can be reluctant to even have the conversation, because we feel like we’re ‘failing’ if we can’t tie everything up in a neat package.
The fact is, these are complex issues and you’re not going to have an easy fix. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that you care and you’re there to listen.
Be an active listener
‘Our volunteers don’t actually give advice,’ says Joe. ‘They support via active listening.
‘They ask open-ended questions, which allows that person to explore their feelings.
‘You don’t have to be a listening volunteer – anyone can do this.
‘Make sure the conversation is focused on your friend or family member who you’re helping.
‘Just open up the conversation and see what they say, rather than jumping in with your first thought.’
Remind them that things can get better
‘It’s worth remembering that more people will experience suicidal thoughts than is acknowledged,’ says Joe,’ but to also remember that suicidal thoughts can pass – this is not something that a person will experience forever.’
Encourage the person you’re talking to to think about the future, and the potential for things to change.
What can they look forward to? It doesn’t have to be anything grand – even the thought of a nice meal to look forward to can inspire hope for better days.
Check in after the chat
‘It’s important to check in with the person after the conversation,’ Joe notes.
‘Whether that is a text, a call, or whatever their their preferred method is, it is worth checking in shortly afterwards and later on, so you both have had a chance to reflect and they know they can come back to it if they need to.’
A reminder: you don’t need to be in the moment of crisis to call Samaritans. You can call them at any time, whenever you need, whether it’s for yourself or on someone else’s behalf.
Whether you call, text, or email, you’ll be listened to without judgment.
You don’t need to tackle this alone.
World Suicide Prevention Day 2022
For this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day, Metro.co.uk have teamed up with Samaritans to share stories and awareness.
As the UK’s leading suicide prevention charity, their aim is to encourage people not to be afraid to talk about suicidal thoughts and feelings if they are worried about someone.
‘Suicide can be seen as a taboo subject, so it is important people know it is OK to ask things like, “are you feeling suicidal?” as it helps the topic of suicide enter conversations more,’ says Samaritans CEO Julie Bentley.
Research has shown that asking someone if they’re suicidal won’t make things worse – it could even protect them. You can find advice and support on how to start a conversation about suicidal thoughts here.
Anyone can contact Samaritans, free, 24/7, 365 days a year, on 116 123, email [email protected] or visit www.samaritans.org.
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