What Can I Do to Help Someone Who is Thinking About Suicide?
- Take it seriously.
Myth: The people who talk about it don't do it. Studies have found that more than 75% of the people who completed suicides demonstrated warning signs in the weeks or months preceding the attempt. Anyone expressing suicidal feelings needs immediate attention. Myth: Anyone who tries to kill himself must be crazy. Actually, only 10% of all suicidal individuals are psychotic. Most suicidal people suffer from depression. Depression is treatable with medication and psychotherapy. Myth: The person's problems are not big enough to commit suicide over. You can never know or understand the way a person is feeling about a situation. It is not how bad the problem is, but how intensely it is affecting the individual.
- Remember: Suicidal behavior is a cry for help.
Myth: If someone is going to kill himself, nothing can stop him. The fact that a person is still alive is sufficient proof that part of him wants to remain alive. The suicidal person tends to be ambivalent and confused. Part of him wants to live, but part of him wants the pain to stop. He sees suicide as one way to stop that pain. If a suicidal person turns to you, it is likely he believes you are more caring and more capable than he is to find professional help. No matter how negative his tone, he is doing a positive thing by reaching out to you.
- Be willing to get help sooner rather than later. If someone is suicidal, there is no time to waste in seeking help. Remind the person that there is nothing shameful about his feelings and that seeking help for depression is the same as seeking help for a physical ailment such as diabetes. There is hope. Research has shown that a combination of counseling and medication are the best treatments for depression and suicidal feelings.
Myth: If one talks about his problems, he may become more depressed. Actually, talking about one's problems has been shown to be very therapeutic. Give the person the opportunity to ventilate his feelings. You do not need to say much and there are no magic words. Be patient, sympathetic and accepting. Do not judge and avoid minimizing his problems or giving advice.
- Do not be afraid to ask, "Are you having thoughts of suicide?" Do not worry that asking this question will give the person the idea. If you ask this question, you are doing a positive thing. You are showing that you care, that you take him seriously and that you are willing to let him share his pain with you. If he answers yes, you should then ask the following questions:
• How would you kill yourself?
• When and where do you plan to kill yourself?
• Do you have access to the means?
• Have you attempted suicide in the past?
If you have any instinct or sense that the person is suicidal...
- Do not leave her/him alone.
- Transport him/her to the hospital Emergency Room or call an ambulance.
- If you believe the person is not in imminent danger, urge professional help. Explain that medication and psychotherapy do work. Remind that person of the good aspects of his/her life, talents, dreams, loved ones, etc. Be persistent about seeking professional help. Seek out a mature and compassionate person with whom you can review the situation. That person may be a parent, professor or counselor.
- Remember that recovery is possible. Most people have suicidal thoughts or feelings at some point in their lives, but only 2% of all deaths are suicides. Most people who are suicidal suffer from conditions such as depression that can pass with assistance from a recovery program.