When serious mental health conditions go untreated, suicide may be the tragic result.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), "Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24 ... [it] is often the result of mental health conditions that affect people when they are most vulnerable."
Many of us assume that suicide could never happen to someone we love … but sadly, it happens every day. In fact, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death for all ages in the United States in 2013. It’s a serious issue that affects millions, and it’s time for us to take action.
Since September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, we’ve put together our top seven tips to help you support your loved ones during times of depression and suicidal ideation.
1. Listen to the person.
First and foremost, show your love by listening. Don’t assume that you know what your friend or family member is thinking; instead, ask thoughtful questions and pay close attention to their answers.
You may think that the other person has no significant reason to be depressed, but remember that what you experience may be very different from another’s.
Their issues are real to them, so listen with compassion.
One of the the very first things we do in our program sessions is teach "Heart-Centered Listening" ... listening to the other person without judgment. Why? Because it’s incredibly powerful. It’s a foundational element of strong relationships.
“A person who is loved appreciatively, not possessively, blooms and develops his own unique self.”
- Carl Rogers, an American psychologist and among the founders of the humanistic approach to psychology.
When you use Heart-Centered Listening, you create a safe space for the other person to learn, grow, and share.
2. Validate their feelings.
This goes right along with Heart-Centered Listening. As you converse with your loved one, remember that their feelings belong to them … and they don’t need to match up with yours!
When someone you love is depressed and suicidal, it is time for you to listen. It is definitely not time for you to bash, deny, or defend.
Instead, listen and then let the other person know you heard what they said. You don’t need to agree, but you do need to respect the dignity of their process. Acknowledge how they are feeling without trying to change it.
3. Ask the question!
If you know that your loved one is dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts and you sense that they’re struggling, get the question out of your head and into the open.
Ask, “Are you feeling suicidal now?”
Don’t be afraid of the question. Voicing it can be an act of service; in doing so, you can help your loved one to talk about their feelings and take appropriate action too.
4. Ask them what they need from you …
… and then honor their request, if you can. Demonstrate your love not just through words, but through actions.
If the other person is open to your help but can’t think of any concrete requests or tasks, you can suggest some practical supports.
For example, you might go with them to their psychiatry or therapy appointment to help them discuss what’s been going on with a professional who can help.
You might offer to call or text on a regular basis to check in.
You might be able to help run errands, or simply spend more time hanging out.
What you choose depends on your particular situation and relationship, but the simple fact of you showing up for your loved one can make a world of difference.
5. Take this issue seriously.
If you suspect that your loved one is suicidal, don’t brush it off as “no big deal”.
Take action. Do what you have to do to keep them safe.
If you’re worried that you’re overreacting, familiarize yourself with the warning signs. Look carefully at NAMI’s Risk of Suicide page. A few warning signs include:
- Threats or comments about killing themselves, also known as suicidal ideation, can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behavior
- Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Talking, writing or thinking about death
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
6. Work with a professional.
When a person is in a state of hopelessness, often they cannot see a way out. You may try your best to help convince them to “see reason” and stay alive … but still, it might not work.
This isn’t your fault.
Your loved one may not be in a rational state of mind in the moment, and professional assistance can help them to find their way back.
Counseling can help, so work with your loved one to get to a professional. Make sure the therapist has experience in crisis work.
What will the professional do to help? Ideally, they will …
- Work with the Negative Future Fantasy that is causing the overwhelming hopelessness
- Work with the underlying judgments and limiting beliefs that are present
- Work with the emotional aspects that are present and active in this process
7. Know that suicidal ideation and suicide attempts ARE a cry for help.
Hear the cry and respond.
Help your friends and family with loving, compassionate, non-judgmental assistance.
It just might save a life.
If you or someone you love is considering suicide, get help now. If you are in crisis yourself, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255).
If it’s an emergency for you or for another person, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.
If you’re in a non-emergency situation and looking for information, referrals, or support for a loved one, call the NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-NAMI (6264).