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10 Ways to Support Someone Who Is Suicidal

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I feel suicidal a lot and it’s incredibly lonely. It’s really hard to reach out and say what you need when feeling suicidal for many reasons — part shut down and withdrawal, part shame, part fear of burdening people or being “intense.”

Below are ways you can support someone feeling suicidal, combining my own experience and that of two people I interviewed.

1. Listen — don’t fix.

Going into fix-mode can create distance between the person sharing and the person listening. “If people respond by going into ‘fixing-mode’ I tend to retract and make light of it or change the subject,” said Elisabeth.

Listen and show empathy, love and non-judgment.

2. Don’t take their suicidal feelings personally.

Feeling suicidal is (for me) a response to seemingly never-ending pain within myself. It’s a response to a complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a life with chronic illness.

“It’s never about the people I love or care about! Don’t think it’s yours to sort out, either. Or that you are in any way responsible for me or my feelings,” said Elisabeth.

3. Trust the person sharing and take them seriously.

“The best support I can get is trust. I need to know someone believes me when I say I am not OK, rather than responding like I’m ‘crazy,’” said Melanie.

Because I feel suicidal a lot, one of the worst things someone can say to me is: “You feel like this all the time, you’ll be fine.” Statistically, the longer someone feels suicidal, the more at risk they are. If I speak up about feeling suicidal, it’s when it’s really bad, so I need to feel heard and taken seriously. I need someone to listen to me and trust and understand that I’m feeling unsafe.

5. Don’t panic — sit with all the uncomfortable feelings that come up.

“Be honest about feeling sad, powerless or scared,” said Elisabeth.

For me, at my lowest points, if I feel like I’m burdening someone I care about I won’t share about feeling suicidal. So, timing is important for when to share your feelings with someone who is suicidal. However, some of the most powerful conversations I’ve had have been when friends have shared how they felt when I felt suicidal, because I know they cared enough to be affected by it. Even if I felt/feel guilty about causing such feelings. Sometimes it’s appropriate to share this in the moment, other times it’s better to wait for the acuteness of the suicidality to pass slightly before you share how you feel with the person.

“A friend of mine usually says: ‘I feel sad to hear that it is like this for you. I cannot imagine what it must be like and ultimately it’s your choice to make, but I want you to know that you are important to me and I don’t want to lose you.’ Then she is happy to listen to what I am going through.”

6. Ask the person what they need.

Offer to stay with me, make me dinner, have me for a sleepover, let me be in your house while you get on with your day. Sometimes distraction and company can be the best medicine when I’m feeling the most unsafe to pull me out of the depths of dissociation. Other times non-judgemental conversation about why I’m feeling how I am is what I need. Other times I just need someone to help with basic tasks like doing the washing up or life admin that has been overwhelming me. And if you can’t do that, helping me reach out to further community to find someone who can is great. All of this helps me feel loved and supported and less overwhelmed, even if only for a while.

Sometimes I can’t say what I need, so if you know someone feels suicidal a lot, have a conversation about what it is they need when feeling suicidal when they’re not at their lowest, so they can voice it then.

7. Check in with them.

Message them to see how they are. Ask them what they’re doing with their day if you can’t be with them. I always feel like someone cares about my whereabouts when someone engages with my daily plans, because it’s easy to feel like you could disappear and no one would notice when you’re feeling suicidal.

Tell them they’re important to you. Send them loving messages just to let them know you’re thinking of them. This means so much to me and helps me feel less alone in it because I know someone is aware of what I’m going through and cares. One of the most touching things a friend can do is to continue to be in touch even if I don’t respond.

8. Ask them about feeling suicidal even if they don’t bring it up.

When someone asks me whether I’m feeling suicidal or how the suicidality is, I always feel so grateful that they care enough to do so, even if it’s difficult for them to ask. “It lets me know it’s something you are comfortable talking about and listening to, which might help me reach out in moments I need to,” said Elisabeth.

9. Ask for feedback.

You won’t always get it right, and that’s OK. Ask the person you’re supporting what worked for them and what didn’t. Be open to feedback, because when friends do this it means so much that they care enough to want to get it right.

10. Find support for yourself.

The person feeling suicidal often can’t support you in their lowest moments, so it’s crucial that you feel supported in this, too. Find a friend or therapist to talk about what comes up for you so you don’t get burned out and your care comes from a place of self-care as well as care for the other person.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Header image via Milkos/Getty Images.

Originally published: February 18, 2019
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