There are days when life is all smooth sailing and full of laughs and love. Then there are days when life will throw us a curveball and we have no other choice but to navigate those rocky times. Sometimes those rocky times may be your rocky times. Then sometimes the rocky times may belong to one of your friends. So, when we discover that one of our friends is in pain our first natural response is to help take that pain away. But sometimes, we just simply don’t know how.
“You may not know what to say and you might be worried that whatever you say might make things worse.”
Being a friend to somebody who is thinking about suicide is one of the most important tasks you can undertake. It’s probably not something you thought you would ever need to do. You may not know what to say and you might be worried that whatever you say might make things worse. It’s not uncommon and completely natural for you to feel panic, fear, frustration, anger, resentment, helplessness, hopelessness and distress.
How do you know if your friend is thinking about suicide?
A friend that is thinking about suicide may give clues as to what’s on their mind. These are often referred to as suicide warning signs.
Your friend may experience a combination of any of the following warning signs and to varying levels of intensity. What they experience will always be different for everyone.
- Loss of physical energy
- Loss of interest in personal hygiene or appearance
- Major changes to sleeping patterns, too much or too little
- Loss of interest in sex
- Sudden and extreme changes in eating habits, either loss of appetite or increase in appetite
- Weight gain or loss
- Increase in minor illnesses.
- Unexplained crying
- Emotional outbursts
- Alcohol or drug misuse
- Uncharacteristic risk-taking or recklessness (for example, driving recklessly)
- Fighting and/or breaking the law
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Quitting activities that were previously important
- Prior suicidal behaviour
- Putting affairs in order e.g. giving away possessions, especially those that have special significance for the person
- Writing a suicide note or goodbye letters to people.
- Escape: “I can’t take this anymore.”
- No future: “What’s the point? Things are never going to get any better.”
- Guilt: “It’s all my fault, I’m to blame”
- Alone: “I’m on my own, no-one cares about me.”
- Damaged: “I’ve been irreparably damaged”, “I’ll never be the same again.”
- Helpless: “Nothing I do makes a bit of difference”, “It’s beyond my control.”
- Talking about suicide or death
- Planning for suicide.
How to talk to somebody about suicide?
Talking about suicide with one of your friends will be one of the most difficult conversations you may ever have. You’ll be full of fear and trepidation but just remember, people who are thinking about suicide are usually uncertain about acting on those thoughts. There is often a part of the person that wants to live and a part that wants to die. It is important to hear their pain and work with the part that wants to live to keep the person safe and support them to seek help.
It’s important to listen
You may want to shake them and beg them and get angry at them (in a loving way) for the thoughts and decisions they’re contemplating. Try to avoid that natural instinct and focus on listening to your friend. By giving them space to talk about their feelings it makes them feel as if they’re supported and they’d be more opening to hearing your advice.
How to start that conversation?
If you want to have an open and honest conversation about suicide then you’re going to have to be direct, otherwise (particularly males) will shrug off the conversation and change the subject. It’s not always easy to initiate a conversation about suicide.
Here are some ideas that can help you start the conversation:
- “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately, is everything ok with you?”
- “I’m worried about you. I’m wondering if we can talk about what’s troubling you?”
- “You’ve seemed really (down/sad/angry/unhappy) lately. I’m worried that you might be thinking of hurting yourself or suicide. Can we talk about this?”
Expressing your concerns to a suicidal loved one
- Let the person at risk know that you are concerned and that you care. Often, knowing another person cares enough to become involved and listen to them can be a great comfort to someone who is suicidal.
- Let the person know that you have noticed a change in them; A change in behaviour and feelings or something that they have said that might have alerted you.
- It is important to simply describe what you have observed rather than use words that convey judgment such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. If the person feels judged, they might feel embarrassed or withdraw.
- Be honest and genuine in your concern.
Having expressed your concern and conveyed your support, keep the following in mind
- Acknowledge that you understand that the person is experiencing a lot of pain at present.
- Show respect and be as understanding as possible about their situation.
- Maintain eye contact and open body language.
- When discussing suicide, ensure you listen carefully to what they have to say. Use active listening techniques, such as paraphrasing what the person has said, reciting it back to them to ensure you understand them.
- Avoid minimising or dismissing their problems, ensure they know you’re taking them seriously.
- Avoid using statements such as “You don’t know how lucky you are” or “You shouldn’t feel like that”, these might sound to the person as though you are judging them and minimising how they are feeling.
- Remind the person that although they may be having thoughts of suicide, they can choose not to act on them.
- Offer realistic hope, it is possible for situations to improve or change for the better. It is likely that their problems weren’t created overnight, therefore the situation will probably take time to resolve. But their problem is resolvable through other means.
- If they are feeling suicidal, the next step is to support them to get help either from a counsellor by calling us on 1300 651 251, a GP or health professional.
What if they don’t want to talk to a professional?
It’s not uncommon for people to be unwilling to speak to a professional about how they’re feeling. This may depend on many factors ranging from their cultural background to a possible poor experience in the past.
If they are reluctant to get help, keep these points in mind:
- Be clear that you are unable to provide sufficient support on your own and you need to bring in extra support from a professional.
- Remind them that their safety is the ultimate priority, and professional support will help keep them safe.
- Normalise the idea of seeking help as much as possible.
- If they’re reluctant to see someone face to face, online counselling can be a non-threatening way to get support.
- If you are comfortable, offer to accompany them to their first appointment to support them.
- It may also help to let your loved one know that accessing professional support will help both of you.
Looking after someone who is suicidal can be a difficult and overwhelming experience, but you do not need to do it alone. There are ways you can get help. After you’ve talked to them about how they’re feeling, the next step is to support them to get help and deal with these feelings, keeping them safe. Get help from professional support.
SuicideLine Victoria provides immediate support to anyone feeling suicidal. In addition, they can provide ongoing support with up to four telephone counselling sessions or online counselling.
Call us on 1300 651 251 or access free video and online counselling.
If it is an emergency, please call 000.