Have you ever lost someone you know or love to suicide?
If you have, you know the complete devastation that is left behind. Far too many families and loved ones have buried their children, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, friends…because of suicide.
And once the funeral or celebration of life is over, they are paralyzed by the reality of what is left behind.
- “Why did they do this?”
- “How did we not know?”
- “We should have done more to help them?”
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US;
- In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide
- Also, in 2017, there were an estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts
- And as we know, according to a 2016 Department of Veterans Affairs Study, each day, over 20 Veterans take their own lives.
What can we do to help?
Here are a few do’s and don’ts if you suspect a friend or family member might be suicidal:
Be yourself. Let the person know you care, that he/she is not alone. The right words are often unimportant. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it.
Listen. Let the suicidal person unload despair, vent anger. No matter how negative the conversation seems, the fact that it is taking place is a positive sign.
Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm, accepting. Your friend or family member is doing the right thing by talking about his/her feelings.
Offer hope. Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that his or her life is important to you.
Take the person seriously. If the person says things like, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask the question: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You are not putting ideas in their head; you are showing that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, and that it’s OK for them to share their pain with you.
Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: “You have so much to live for,” “Your suicide will hurt your family,” or “Look on the bright side.”
Act shocked, lecture on the value of life, or say that suicide is wrong.
Promise confidentiality. Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.
Offer ways to fix their problems, or give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting your friend or loved one.
Blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness, or lack thereof, is not your responsibility.
If a friend or family member is suicidal, the best way to help is by offering an empathetic, listening ear. Let your loved one know that he or she is not alone and that you care. Don’t take responsibility, however, for healing your loved one. You can offer support, but you can’t make a suicidal person get better. He or she has to make a personal commitment to recovery.
Talking to a friend or family member about their suicidal thoughts and feelings can be extremely difficult for anyone. But if you’re unsure whether someone is suicidal, the best way to find out is to ask. You can’t make a person suicidal by showing that you care. In fact, giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings can provide relief from loneliness and pent-up negative feelings, and may prevent a suicide attempt.
If you feel someone is suicidal and are concerned they will inflict immediate self harm call 911 and let them know your emergency. More and more communities have suicide prevention specialists that are trained in these types of situations.
Are you a Veteran in crisis or concerned about one?
National Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 Press 1
Veterans Crisis Text Line: Text 838255
For deaf and hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889