In part one, I discussed some of the warning signs that someone may be considering suicide. Now that you know warning signs, what should you do if you realize someone you care about is exhibiting them?
Believe it or not, the single best thing you can do is ASK THEM about it; however, there are good and bad ways to do this.
First of all, here are some quick “setting the stage” tips:
- Plan a time and place to ask the “s” question.
- Try to get the person alone or in some private setting.
- Give yourself a little bit of time….don’t plan on just a 5-10 minute conversation.
- The key is to get them to be honest with you. So helping them feel comfortable and not rushed is important to that.
When you are going to “make the ask” about whether someone is considering suicide, I recommend trying to create some empathy, while still asking the person directly. Here’s an example:
- “You know, some people who are going through (what the person is going through) have considered committing suicide/ending their lives. Have you thought about this?
- “You know, when people are as upset as you seem to be, they sometimes wish they were dead. I’m wondering if you’re feeling that way too?”
The intent is to ask the person in a loving, caring way, without being judgmental or making them feel defensive. That’s why you create the empathy. You want the person to be honest, and by approaching them in a compassionate, caring manner, you’re far more likely to get a real answer.
There are some definite DON’Ts when it comes to asking someone about whether they’re considering suicide.
- DON’T ask them, “So, I know you’ve been in a funk lately. You’re not thinking about doing something crazy, are you?”
- The reason you should NEVER ask that question is because it will make the person defensive, and also, THEY don’t think that suicide is crazy if they’re seriously considering it. And of course, they’ll answer “no” to that question!
- Don’t be too vague. Dancing around the question won’t bring an honest response. For example:
- “Hey, are you doing OK? I know your divorce must really be hard on you, and I noticed you’re not yourself lately.”
- This won’t cause someone to admit that they’re feeling suicidal. It’s too non-specific.
- A lot of people think that by bringing up the topic of suicide, they’ll somehow “plant the idea” in the person’s head. This is not true. In fact, it’s the opposite. Once someone knows that another person cares enough to directly ask them, they’re more likely to get help, and it automatically helps create hope that their life matters to someone else.
So what do you do next if someone admits to you that they are considering ending their own life?
First of all, don’t start lecturing them on the value of life, or asking them “why” or anything along that line because it will make them feel defensive. Also, don’t immediately give advice, or try to “fix things.”
Here’s what to do:
- Start by listening. Listening is the greatest gift you can give to a person who doesn’t feel heard.
- Let the person tell you how they’re feeling without passing judgment.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Try to tame your own fear (of losing this person) so that you can focus on them
Your goal is to help the person decide to get some help
Try to get a “yes” to any of these questions:
- Will you go with me to see a counselor? (or a priest, minister, school nurse, psychologist, or trusted friend or family member) The idea is to get someone else involved who’s in a good position to help.
- Will you let me help you make an appointment/will you let me drive you to….
At this point, you’ve demonstrated that you care tremendously about this person, and that you want to help. That knowledge alone can make a world of difference to someone considering suicide.
Deaconess Cross Pointe offers a 24-hour CARE line. For more information.
Also, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is truly a life-saver in a crisis situation: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
For more suicide prevention resources, including awareness training classes for groups.