This month is Suicide Prevention Month and today September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day.
Suicide prevention is very personal for me. I have struggled in the past with suicidal ideations and depression. My husbands best friend committed suicide 2 years ago, and I will never forget watching his pain as he processed that. My grandfather committed suicide before I got to know him when I was 2 weeks old. A common theme throughout my life was to not talk about it, to shy away from those difficult conversations and pretend they didn’t happen. The very nature of trying to cover things like this up, and hide from them is what continues the stigma. It continues to keep the person in pain feeling like they are alone and isolated.
Some great resources can be found at Be the One To website. https://www.bethe1to.com/
They outline 5 basic steps to help someone who has suicidal thoughts. They are very simple:
- ASK – ask the question, are you contemplating suicide? This can be intimidating and scary for us to ask that hard question, but this is the stigma that we are trying to break. It is not uncommon for someone to have suicidal thoughts from time to time, thinking they would be better off dead etc. By being comfortable asking the question you open the door to listen and offer empathy.
- BE THERE – the next crucial step, asking the question, hey are you ok? be prepared to remain present and listen when someone says they are not. This is a hard step. I have personally seen this, people ask are you ok, and when you tell them no, they listen for a few moments and then go back into their world. For someone struggling with suicidal thoughts or feeling terribly alone it takes a lot to open up, once they do open up take it as a sign they need ongoing social support.
- KEEP THEM SAFE – if you find out they are contemplating suicide make a plan to keep them safe. This looks different for everyone. Ask if they have a plan, or just thoughts. If they have a plan and have immediate access to a weapon or medication then you may need to alert someone else like authorities or help them get to an emergency room for care.
- HELP THEM CONNECT – take time to help them connect to resources for ongoing support. Make sure they call their primary care physician, and can begin mental health counseling. Find your local support groups and get them connected to these, it might look like going to their first meeting with them to show support and ensure they are getting help that they need.
- FOLLOW UP – I know this step sounds simple in principle but it is actually hard to remember to follow up long term. Put a note in your calendar if you have to, check in on them the next day, the next week, and try to keep following up for a few months. I think when someone is struggling with depression its easy to see them through the first week and the initial step of getting help and assume they will be fine. But depression and suicidal thoughts can come and go, often it looks like a wave during recovery with many high and low points for a period of time. This also helps the person feel connected, again social connection and support is an important way to help prevent suicide.
If someone comes to you talking about thinking they would be better off dead, or their loved ones would be better off, they feel that. Acknowledge their pain and just listen. I think it’s easy to say come on we all love you that’s silly you can’t do that. But the person in pain really feels the best way to end their pain is escaping through death. They are stuck in a cloud and cannot see through to the other side.
So this month let’s talk about it more. Let’s normalize asking the questions that make us squirm and get comfortable being uncomfortable. Let’s really be the ones to support our brothers and sisters in pain and listen without judgement. Let’s open the doors and create pathways for connection and warmth. Let’s show unconditional positive regard and empathy even if it scares us to think about them committing suicide; chances are they are even more terrified than you.