Sadly, there was a suicide this past week in the community of which I am a part. According to the latest data from the American Association of Suicidology, suicide rates have increased every year between 2006-2016 (the last year for which there is data). For every completed suicide there are 25 attempts, and females have three times the attempts that males do, although males complete more suicides. This is due to the fact that males use more lethal means (i.e. firearms).
For about a year I was fortunate enough to answer the National Suicide Hotline 800-273-TALK . I had some very troubling conversations, but also some very rewarding ones. I don’t want to oversimplify, but one characteristic that was common to almost all the callers was an extreme feeling of being overwhelmed by life. Often feeling stuck with little to no hope of life ever changing for the better. I did not personally know this young man, but I imagine he may have been feeling similar to the callers I felt blessed to talk with on the hotline.
If you are concerned that someone may be contemplating suicide, ask them directly, “are you having thoughts of suicide?” You will not be putting the idea in their head. Whatever their answer, you then want to listen to them. Hear them tell you how stuck they are feeling, or how overwhelmed life is for them. With as much empathy as you have, get in touch with what being overwhelmed and stuck feels like. Let them know and FEEL that you have some sense of what they are experiencing. DO NOT tell them that they have so much going for them, that so many people love them, this will come across as you not understanding, and/or them feeling guilty. Your job is to listen and have genuine empathy for your friend.
If your friend answered, “yes” to having thoughts of suicide you want to follow up asking if they have plans for suicide and the means and timeframe to carry it out. Many people have thoughts of suicide that never come up with much of a plan. Just because someone says they are having thoughts of suicide does not mean they are an imminent risk to themselves. However, the more detailed the plan the higher the risk. Which is why it is important to ask about a plan.
The important thing is that people get the help they need! Often talking with a mental health counselor proves to be transformative. It is amazing the healing power that comes when one really feels heard. After listening with empathy, you will want to connect your friend with professional help. You can always call the Suicide Crisis Hotline 800-273-8255 if you feel uncertain or need someone to talk with right away. They are trained and have access to some resources that may prove helpful.
This blog is not meant to be all-encompassing, just a brief overview of a couple of important aspects to think about. Below are links to websites where you can explore and learn more about helping those having thoughts of suicide.
If you are having suicidal thoughts yourself know there is someone who is interested in hearing from you. Please call the hotline right away. The number again is 800-273-TALK .
Some sites to check out: