Mental health illnesses are often associated with an immense lack of understanding, and people often feel perplexed and ill-equipped to be able to speak with someone who has been diagnosed with an illness.
If someone you know speaks of suicidal thoughts or suicidal intent it is many a times experienced as difficult, distressing, and confusing. Knowing what to say, how to manage the prevalent situation, and support the person in the most effective manner are very important in this regard.
Here are some thing that you must keep in mind if you are trying to support someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts:
1. Asking the right questions in the beginning is important to establish the level of danger to the individual themselves. In doing so, being sensitive and patient is very critical as you may need to ask direct questions to understand the person’s current state of mind.
Ask ‘How are you coping with the situations you are facing?’, ‘Are you thinking about hurting yourself?’, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’, ‘Have you thought of harming yourself now or before?’, ‘Do you have access to means to hurt or harm yourself?’.
Asking these questions can be very difficult; and having a good rapport—while ensuring the person knows you are coming from a space of care, concern and support—is very crucial.
2. Maintain a stance of listening to what the person has to share. Keep advice giving to a minimum as the individual shares experiences, thoughts and feelings. Talking about what a person may be thinking of will not lead to an exacerbation of the thoughts. Getting the space to share in a non-judgmental and supportive manner can often reduce the risk of the individual acting on suicidal thoughts.
3. Offer individual assistance for determining the next steps towards seeking help from professionals. Often in such a situation, planning visits to their treating psychiatrist or psychologist, or finding experts to work with, can become difficult for the individual. Reinforce that you are available to help them in working through these aspects of help seeking.
4. Encourage and reinforce the need to seek help. Often individuals can be reluctant to reach out to experts or may feel that nothing they do may be helpful in working through the thoughts and feelings they are experiencing. Insist on the need to connect to an expert even as you continue to hear them out and provide them the support you can as a friend, colleague or family member.
5. Don’t be judgmental towards what is shared by the person and do not agree to keep their suicidal feelings a secret. Saying things like ‘it could be worse’ or ‘this isn’t that bad’ or ‘look at others who are going through so much worse’ belittle their experiences and prevent them from reaching out for help when they need to.
Most importantly, be vigilant and look out for warning signs at all times. Talking about suicide, finding means to harm themselves, withdrawing from others, changing routines, talking of futility of existence, meaninglessness or purposelessness, feeling preoccupied with thoughts of death and dying, being reckless, giving away belongings, or saying goodbye are critical signs and must be kept in mind at all times in such situations. This would warrant immediately seeking help and connecting to an expert.
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