How to Support Someone Who Is Suicidal
It's much more simple than you might think
I sat down to write this article after having a phone call with my mom who called to tell me that she had heard that the government was taking steps finalize a three digit suicide hotline number similar to 911. She took this as good news and as a sign that we are heading in a better direction and unfortunately, I didn't share the sentiment with her. I'm sad that we need this in the first place and why do we need it?
Well first off, the rates of suicide are astronomically higher today than they were just a few short decades ago. Our collective mental state has continued to deteriorate and decay and we just kind of live with this tragedy that surrounds us. It's not even as though we are accepting it as normal, we're kind of just pretending that it's not happening and as though it doesn't exist and I'm honestly not sure which truth is more troubling. Males end their lives far more often than females and if you started asking around, you probably wouldn't get very far before you found someone that had ended their life. If you don't know someone that has ended their life then I promise someone you know has known someone. So now we need a national suicide number to call in case of suicide. I'm sad that we even need one in the first place.
Second, it's incredibly unfortunate that we aren't providing sufficient support to each other. If we look around, we've adopted a culture of contempt and competition. Human beings are hostile and hateful towards each other these days in biblical proportions. We need a suicide line because we're no longer able to turn to each other and get any kind of real support. It's sad and unfortunate that we no longer seem to know how to support each other or care enough about each other to take the time be kind and caring. I've noticed that I can't bring up the topic about how males are truly dominating the suicide statistic without it quickly turning into a topic about girls. It's not a competition. It's not a contest. There's nothing wrong, truly, with just caring about everyone regardless of who they are.
I don't want a world with a suicide line, I want a world where human beings rally around each other and support each other. A world where we fight to keep each other going instead of just turning our backs to it. A world where we drop everything when we hear that someone is in trouble and we just love and support them. We need suicide lines because we aren't supportive of each other. As I've talked to friends and family about this issue, it's one that has been and continues to be important to me, I can see them squirm a bit. One of my closest and most honest friends told me that he feels inadequate, he wouldn't know what to do or where to start. He confessed that he has no idea what he could or should do about it.
"I don't want a society with suicide help lines, I want a world where people get the support they need from those around them"
One of our problems is that supportive people tend to get into fixing mode. If someone close to them were to tell them that they were suicidal, they go into fixing mode by offering solutions or courses of action and one thing that I really want people to know and understand is that fixing mode isn't actually helpful, in fact it's really invalidating and can leave a person feeling frustrated and even resentful. Think about it... have you ever gone to someone because you were struggling and they quickly got busy with telling you what to do or they just tried to fix it? How did you feel? If you're anything like me, you were frustrated and feeling doubtful that you would turn to that person again. I also realize that people fall into fixing mode reflexively and without thought.
Helping someone who is suicidal is actually fairly simple... there are so many easy and basic things that you can do that doesn't require any additional education or training. In fact, I'm certain that if you follow these guidelines you can make a huge difference without putting much into it.
Don't freak out - Easier said than done, I know, but I've learned that freaking out isn't just ineffective, it usually makes things worse. As a therapist, I have an excellent poker face. There's almost nothing that I haven't heard by now and I've become quite skilled at being calm. It's important not to freak out. I see a lot of people that will try and force the person to a hospital or they want to get them admitted when that's not necessarily what they need. Try to keep in mind that if they're confiding in you, they want to improve and there's a big part of them that doesn't want to resort to suicide. If they really were just completely suicidal, they would just do it and not say anything about it to anyone. Don't make it worse by freaking out, take a deep breath and stay calm.
Listen - I talk about listening all the time in my articles. Most people are terrible listeners when good listening can be incredibly helpful and effective. It takes such little effort. Step one: shut up. Step two: don't talk. Step three: remain quiet. Good listening is at the very first step to providing good therapy but it's not just about listening, it's seeking to understand. A lot of people think about suicide because of how alone they feel and nothing chases away loneliness like feeling heard and understood.
Go 'taco about it' - I already wrote an article entirely about this principle that I call 'let's taco about it' and it's simply just the idea that you can just take them to go get a taco or some warm crispy french fries. Keep it relaxed and simple. Provide support by getting away from stress and just be people together.
Practice empathy - Society has become cold and loveless, there I said it but I know there are still so many great and amazing people out there and what makes us amazing? Empathy. We can all relate to the struggle of how hard life is sometimes so be relatable. Validate their experience and their emotions. Ask yourself how you would feel and what you would want and need if you were struggling with this.
Express caring and love - I realize how difficult this has become for most people and it's also unfortunate how much this is overlooked. Sometimes a person just needs to hear how important they are to you. If you love them, if you care about them and if they are important to you then it's imperative that you express this to them. So many people who are struggling with suicide just need to know that somebody is going to be there for them without judgment. It's so important to be honest and sincere, people can tell when you're just saying nice things, they can tell if you're not being sincere.
The most important message that I want to convey here is how important it is that you find the part within you that truly cares. Connect to the caring and altruistic part of yourself and allow it to be expressed in positive ways. There's truly nothing more powerful and effective than this. I realize that people have a tendency to misinterpret things so let me be really clear about something, doing all of this does not mean that you don't work to find an appropriate professional intervention but I also know that most people are wanting to do anything and everything they can and they want to know they've done their best and what I've outlined here certainly will be your best.
It's worth noting that all of this is likely going to come with a high level of vulnerability on your part, something that too many of us have become far to uncomfortable with these days. It's important to realize that so many of us feel lost and empty because we are lacking the human connections that come with vulnerability and I know easy it is to feel inadequate and overwhelmed in a situation like this but it's important to remember that doing even just a couple of the things that I've covered here is vastly better than doing nothing at all. It's okay to be inadequate, it's far better than abandoning someone in their time of need and remember that it's far better for a struggling person to talk to someone they know than a stranger on the phone whose waiting for their shift to end.
Believe in yourself and remember that it's okay to be inadequate, just do you best and remember that your best is better than nothing.