We lost two beloved, complex, creative souls to suicide last week – reminding us that suffering not only affects all types, but remains largely hidden, even from loved ones. Time and again, the suicides of public figures who seem to live fulfilled and privileged lives have revealed this important take home message: Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. In the wake of Kate Spade’s and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides, many ask – how can I help a loved one who is suffering?
First, it’s important to note that there are many myths surrounding suicide. Check yourself if you believe these are true or false:
- Asking someone if they have thought about suicide may trigger them to actually do it. It may put the idea in their head or make them angry and impulsive.
- Once someone has made up their mind about suicide, you cannot stop them.
- Only experts can prevent suicide.
- People who consider suicide keep their plans to themselves.
- Those who talk about suicide don’t actually do it.
- Depression is the only risk factor for suicide.
All of these myths are false. Suicide is a highly preventable type of death and it’s everyone’s business. Providing a person who is considering suicide with a safe space to talk about their thoughts and feelings will actually lower their risk of completing suicide. Asking someone directly about suicide helps lower anxiety, opens up communication, and lowers the risk of an impulsive act of self harm. Other than depression, risk factors for suicide are plentiful, including financial or relationship losses, health concerns, legal issues, substance abuse and dependence, and other psychiatric illnesses.
The key is to ask and listen. Survivors report that being asked about suicide was a relief, and that the most important part was feeling listened to without judgment. Feeling connected and not alone has powerful healing properties for the person who is suffering.
Here are some tips on how to talk to a loved one who you suspect may be considering suicide:
- Ask them if they are thinking about killing themselves. (This will not put the idea into their head or make it more likely that they will attempt suicide.)
- Listen without judging and show you care.
- Stay with the person, or make sure the person is in a private, secure place with another caring person, until you can get further help.
- Remove any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt (weapons, pills, etc.).
- Do NOT offer advice or try to cheer them up. This can cause the person to feel invalidated and shut down.
- DO offer to help the person make an appointment with a health or mental health provider and to accompany them to the appointment.
- Enlist the help of others. Do NOT agree to keep someone’s suicidal thoughts a secret.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and follow their guidance.
- If danger for self-harm seems imminent, call 911.
- Remember, suicide is highly preventable, help is out there, and people do recover.