Today (Sunday 10th September 2017) is World Suicide Prevention Day. Suicide is a huge issue among young people, and it is estimated that over 20% of people experience suicidal thoughts at some point during their life. It is one thing to know the statistics and to be aware of the extent of the problem, but it is another step altogether to know what to do when someone you know is in the position themselves. -Megan Stokell
As someone with a personal history of suicidal ideations and attempts, it’s safe to say that I have experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to people trying to help me. Although in hindsight I can appreciate that everyone who tried to help was doing it from a place of love, at the time there were certain things that really did not have the intended effect.
*** Disclaimer: Everyone who experiences mental health difficulties, including suicidal ideation, experiences them differently- I am just sharing my own in the hope that it will resonate with others.***
Take it seriously
If I summoned up the courage to tell someone the thoughts that I was experiencing, the most hurtful thing was for them to think I wasn’t completely sincere.
Having people just sit in the same room as me; having people message me every now and then to catch up on how I’m doing or to talk to about nothing- it made such a difference.
If you can’t be there, explain
I totally understand and understood, even when I was at my worst, that nobody could be there all the time. Furthermore, having been on the other side of the fence, when people close to me have been suicidal, I understand that sometimes you just aren’t in the right mindset to be there for someone in that capacity. And that’s okay, but you need to tell them. Don’t take longer and longer to reply to their messages, or suddenly become too busy to catch up. Let them know that you can’t be there for them but that it doesn’t mean you love or care for them any less.
Ask what you can do to help
Spoiler alert: they often won’t have an answer. But just asking is another way of showing that you care and you understand that there are aspects of what they are going through that you just cannot understand. Sometimes just doing their washing up, or helping them make a phone call, or send an email, or picking up some shopping can be a real help.
Tell them that you love them, regularly
When you’re feeling suicidal it can be really difficult to feel that you are loved, and even harder to feel that you are worthy of love. For me, this meant that even if someone had told me they loved me in the morning, by the evening, I could have convinced myself that they’d changed their mind if they hadn’t told me again. As annoying as this probably became for those around me, hearing it on a regular basis made a huge difference.
Encourage them to seek professional help
As much as you love your friend and may do everything you can to be there for them, you cannot serve as a substitute for someone with the proper training. Not only can they give the proper help to the one suffering but it also significantly reduces the pressure on you.
WHAT DOES NOT
‘Someone always has it worse’
This statement, although generally well-intended, is highly invalidating. Anyone who is struggling enough to want to die does not want to hear about how insignificant their suffering is in the grand scheme of things.
‘Your life is perfect’
On paper, a person may have a perfect life but they are struggling with suicidal thoughts, reminding them of this will only make them feel worse: just as seen above, it suggests that the person is simply ungrateful for what they have, and once again, that they do not have the right to have the feelings that they do.
‘I don’t know what I’d do if you died’
Although it’s helpful to tell someone how much you care about them/love them, taking it this one step further is not a good idea because it moves the attention from them onto you and just adds to the feelings of guilt/pressure that they are already experiencing.
‘Suicide is cowardly/selfish’
So many people believe this of suicide but once again, it just acts to increase feelings of guilt surrounding the suicidal individual. It may seem this way to one who doesn’t understand the thought process involved: for me it got to a point where I felt like such a burden that I genuinely believe suicide to be the least selfish option.
‘I know how you feel’
Chances are, you don’t. And if you do, it’s shifting the emphasis back onto you again. For me personally, knowing that other people had been suicidal and made it through had no bearing on whether I would make it through. It just seemed entirely irrelevant to me and what I was struggling with.
‘Don’t worry, everything will be okay’
Every time someone told this, my brain’s response was just to scream ‘how do you know though?!’ Moreover, even if things would be okay in the end, telling me this seemed useless while I was in the depths of suicidal thoughts. Don’t tell them what they think, don’t tell them what they feel, and don’t tell them what will and won’t happen. Focus on making things more bearable and keeping them safe, each moment at a time.
If you’re feeling suicidal at the moment, please know that you have options:
>>NHS 111 (urgent medical advice) — or ring your GP as soon as possible
>>Breathing Space 0800 83 85 87 — (Weekdays: Monday-Thursday 6pm to 2am; Weekend: Friday 6pm-Monday 6am) — http://breathingspace.scot/
Other more specific helplines:
>>CALM (Campaign against living miserably) 0800 58 58 58 — (5pm–midnight, 365 days a year) for men at risk of suicide https://www.thecalmzone.net/
>>Switchboard 0300 330 0630 (10am-10pm every day) LGBT+ helpline https://switchboard.lgbt/