But, more than this, suicide is a topic many of us shy away from not because it is unpleasant but because, thankfully, we simply do not understand it. We do not understand what it means for the thought of dying to consume, to overpower every other thought. We cannot conceive how it occurs to a person to decide that killing themselves would be best for everyone, including their families. And it is nigh on impossible for anyone of rational mind to truly sympathise with how it feels to be quite so desperate to disappear.
This does not, however, mean that we should not talk about suicide. Nor does it mean that it is impossible to help someone if we have not been in that position ourselves.
Sadly, I am far more experienced than I would like in communicating with and supporting people for whom hope seems non-existent and have come up with ten considerations to help anyone deal with the same situation:
Image sourced from here.
- Make no assumptions
There are a million different reasons why a person might be driven to suicide. They might well have had something terrible happen to them, seeking an urgent escape from intense emotion. Equally, some people do not see the point in existence: without anything bad ever having happened, they simply do not wish to be alive. Never make assumptions or, even, predictions as to why a person feels as they do because this runs the risk of missing crucial information that could help them. Simply listen.
- Stay calmWhen a person confides a wish to die, or, even, attempts to do so, it is only natural to react with crazed distress, upset or surprise. Some people might even find themselves displaying anger towards the suicidal person. Instinctive though these responses are, it is important to always try to refrain from displaying anything other than complete calm. It is likely that someone on the brink of ending their life is already very distressed and confused by their thoughts and emotions. In order to help the person to regain perspective, it is important to refrain from contributing to their distress and help them to feel that the situation does not have to be devastating.
- Don't guilt-trip
People do not, generally, kill themselves out of spite. It is not an act of self-fulfillment, seeking to destroy the lives of other; it is an act of self-hatred, wherein the person truly believes that those they care about would be better without them. This is not to say that they do not think others would be upset by their parting but, rather, that their thought processes lead them to a confident conclusion that they should not exist. They will already feel guilty. They will already acknowledge the pain it might cause. They will already hate themselves quite enough. Guilt-tripping and fear-jerking will never work.
- Do remind that people care
This is not to say, however, that people do not need reminding that they are cared about by many. It is possible for a mind to feel lonely even when it is surrounded by others. Sometimes, a little guidance is necessary to help a person acknowledge that, no matter how little they care about themselves, there are others who truly care about them.
- Don't apply logic to feeling Mental illness is not logical. Feelings and physical responses do not always correspond to thoughts or environmental stimulus and, as such, it is impossible to logic with such intense emotion. Correcting a person's thoughts as though it is so easy to feel better is patronising and ineffective. Equally, trivialising the extent of a person's feelings, saying 'I felt really sad once', only serves to further isolate them. You are not that person and cannot, therefore, ever understand how they feel. Please don't pretend to.
- Do challenge irrational thoughts
On the other hand, some people become so tired of challenging their thoughts that they simply cease to do so. It is important to help people to identify the flaws in their thoughts about themselves and their existence, proving to them that they might not be that bad a person after all.
- Tell the person that they are safe
Very often, if a person has told you that they are having suicidal thoughts, it is because they want help. In these cases, telling them that they are safe and that you will help them to be okay reassures them that they have done the right thing in telling you and helps to remove them, temporarily, of the weighty responsibility of caring for themselves.
- Do not assume that the person would be honest in saying they are not safe
Sometimes, people want to die. Actually want to die. This is not to say that they cannot be happy. Nor is it to say that there has never and will never be a time that they wish to live. But, in that moment, their only purpose is to end their lives and they would not risk telling you that this is the case for fear that you would stop them. So many times I have known friends sent home from hospital because they said they had no intention of killing themselves, overjoyed at how easy it had been to escape to a new opportunity to try. Do not assume that they would be honest with you, no matter what you think you know. A life rests on it.
- Focus on the immediate
A person who wishes to die has seen a world without them in it. They have removed themselves of a future and, as such, are likely to find difficulty visualising a future that they never expected to happen. As such, when at their most vulnerable, all the person needs help to focus on is the immediate. What are they going to do right this very second? What are they feeling right now? What can they hear? What can they see? What is happening now? All they need to survive is now.
- Remind the person that they are not alone
No matter the circumstances, no matter what else is happening in the person's life, in this moment, you are there with them and there for them. Do not let them forget this. Sometimes, one person, one set of ears and one pair of open arms is all that is needed to bring someone back out from their suffering just long enough to save their life.