Myths About Suicidal Thoughts
- People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.
Almost everyone who commits suicide has given some clue or warning in advance. So don’t ignore even an indirect reference to death or suicide. Statements like, “You’ll be sorry when I’m gone,” “I can’t see any way out” –even if someone claims they made the statement in jest, could be a warning. Consider these statements and other information to determine if other evidence supports greater concern.
- Anyone who tries to kill themselves must be crazy.
Few people who commit suicide are psychotic or insane. Most are upset, grief-stricken, depressed, or despairing, but extreme distress and emotional pain are not signs of mental illness.
- If someone is determined to kill themselves, nothing will stop them.
Most people who commit suicide aren’t performing the act because they desire to die. No, they are carrying it out because they want the pain to stop, and suicide is the only way they know how to do that. So if you can help them get beyond the period of the worst of the pain, you can help keep them alive.
- People who die by suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help.
Studies indicate that at least fifty percent (50%) of the people who commit sought help from a doctor or counselor in the six months before their death.
- Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.
Talking openly and honestly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can help save a life. It doesn’t put the idea of suicide into their heads; the idea is already there. Talking about it gets it out in the open and helps them free up the tension and fear.
How to Ask Someone If They Are Thinking About Suicide
- Be direct; say what you mean. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide. Too often, people talk around the subject. Don’t. Use the words.
- Be yourself. Let the person know you care that they are not alone. Finding the right words is not nearly as important as showing your concern.
- Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings no matter what they may be; don’t try to tell the person they “don’t really feel that way.” Accept that they do.
- Let your friend or family member vent and unload their feelings. No matter how negative the conversation seems, the fact that it is taking place is a positive sign.
- Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
- Don’t Argue. Avoid saying things like “you have so much to live for,” “Your suicide will hurt your family,” “You’re selfish to commit suicide,” or “Just snap out of it.”
- Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
- Don’t dare them to do it.
- Don’t act shocked. It will put distance between you.
- Don’t be sworn to secrecy or make promises to keep confidential about anything related to their safety. A life is at stake, and you may need to speak to a mental health professional to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you might have to break your word, which could jeopardize their trust in you for the future.
- Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance. You cannot guarantee that things will get better. Instead, reassure your loved one that help is available and that suicidal feelings are temporary. Let them know that their life is important to you.
- Take action. Remove means, like weapons or pills.
- Take them seriously. If they say, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask if they’re having thoughts of suicide. You’re allowing them to share their pain with you, not putting ideas in their head.
- Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
- Don’t offer ways to fix their problems, give advice, or make them feel like they must justify their suicidal feelings. It’s not about how bad the problem is but how badly your friend or loved one is hurting.
- Don’t blame yourself. You can’t fix someone’s depression or make them happy, nor can you take responsibility for bringing them out of their suicidal state of mind.
Call the Crisis Lifeline During That Conversation If They Share the Following Feelings ( 1-800-273-8255)
- Can’t stop the pain
- Can’t think clearly
- Can’t make decisions
- Can’t see any way out
- Can’t sleep, eat or work
- Can’t get out of depression
- Can’t make the sadness go away
- Can’t see a future without pain
- Can’t see themselves as worthwhile
- Can’t get someone’s attention
- Can’t seem to get control
How to Actively Listen
When you’re talking to someone who is depressed, and you’re trying to convince them how important they are and how interested you are in them, excellent listening skills are essential. If you can’t pay attention and your mind wonders, you essentially communicate to the person they don’t matter to you. Instead of helping the person, you have reinforced what they believed all along – they don’t’ matter. Therefore, active listening requires concentration and understanding.
Here are some pointers.
- Acknowledge the Speaker – Look them in the eye, nod your head, say, “Uh-huh.” Each of these actions indicates to the one speaking that you are paying attention to them.
- Respond Verbally – Ask questions, make statements that clarify what the speaker said. Both show that you were listening and want to understand what was said or that you interpreted what they said correctly. However, always let the speaker finish talking first. Don’t interpret them to ask clarifying questions. Wait until they are finished.
- Summarize What You Heard – After they stop talking, say something like, “I want to make sure that I fully understand what you just shared, so correct me if I leave anything out or get this wrong. Here’s what I believe you are trying to tell me. Then, summarize in a few sentences the story they told you.” You can either repeat the entire account, summarize or paraphrase it. You can also use words like, “what I’m hearing is…” or “sounds like you’re saying..”
- Look the Part – Keep good eye contact, maintain good posture, and stay focused while participating in active listening. When you become distracted or unfocused, the speaker feels you don’t care. However, when they see you listening intently to them, the opposite happens.