September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day, something I hold very close to my heart. It’s been approximately three years since I last felt dangerously suicidal. I can proudly say that even my passive suicidal thoughts have silenced, making this the first time in my adult life that I can say ‘I’m happy’ without a moment of hesitation.
“Suicide was always on my mind. It lived in both the forefront and the background for the majority of my life.”
I can’t recall the first time I felt like suicide was an option. Perhaps it was even before I even knew what the word ‘suicide‘ meant. All I can tell you is that suicide was always on my mind. It lived in both the forefront and the background for the majority of my life. Sometimes yelling, sometimes whispering, but always present.
I’ve talked about being passively suicidal before, along with a detailed discussion on what exactly it means. At the time I was very passively suicidal with periods of being active. Both are horrible places to be and left me with no zest for any area of my life. Everything was too overwhelming, loud, and scary. The only place I felt safe was in my sleep, and even then it was seldom.
It feels different for anyone, so for me to try and explain exactly what it feels like would be very one sided.
To say that it feels like an overwhelming and deep, deep sadness also doesn’t feel accurate. There’s nothing I really can say to describe just how hopeless and dark, and terrifying feeling suicidal can be. It’s like being kidnapped by an unknown force and tortured into holding a gun to your head repeatedly. You’re seconds from death at any point and you have no idea when you might hit a breaking point. Some people have plans, others don’t and many survivors report regretting it moments after they’ve attempted, including me.
5 ways you can help someone experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Listen to them.
Sometimes all we need is someone who is willing to take the time to listen to us. I can’t tell you how it amazing it felt to have my doctor take an interest in my case when I first went to him with a relapse. This was a man I had met once while registering many months prior, and when I spoke to him about the eating disorder, he was more than accommodating. I’m almost 100% certain that I cried because I was so happy to simply be heard by someone, anyone, in my life. Of course, at the time, I was suicidal but didn’t breach the subject out of fear. But I have no doubt that he would have listened with the same compassion and referred me urgently to get the help that I needed.
If someone approaches you in need of help, simply listen. Show an interest in their feelings and experience. Put the phone away, make a cup of tea, and allow them to let the pain out. Most important of all show that you’re being an active listener. Don’t nod when appropriate and zone out thinking about your next vacation. Ask them why they’re feeling this way, how long, have they reached out to anyone else, and discuss ways in which they can help themselves. Also, express your own interest in helping them and ask them what they need from you as a friend, partner, etc. You’re not going to take it all away, nor will talking fix them completely, but it’s a start.
Validate, don’t minimise.
It doesn’t matter what their reason for feeling like this is. There’s a chance it might not make sense to you, but don’t write it off as over dramatic or attention-seeking. Mental illness is complex and nothing is ever straight forward. There’s usually always more going on than we’re aware of. Although everything may seem perfect on the surface, below that their whole world could feel like it’s on fire.
Please avoid using phrases such as ‘get over it’ or ‘wise up.’ Not only are you being extremely insensitive but you’re also encouraging them to stay silent rather than talk about the issue. This is a dangerous line to cross and can potentially lead the individual to continually bottle their feelings until it all becomes too much.
Most importantly of all it’s important to let them know that they aren’t being a burden or annoying in any way. This is something I’ve both thought and come across in conversation many times. No mater how awful I felt, I always felt even worse about the fact that I reached out for help. I felt like a fake and a burden even when others assured me that I wasn’t. It’s a product of society and how we’ve been taught to cope with mental health issues. But it’s important that we remind ourselves and others that asking for help isn’t weak, shameful and it certainly doesn’t make you a burden.
Point them in the direction of professional help.
Although you’re doing an excellent thing by providing your friend with a listening ear, it’s important that you also point them in the direction of professional help. There may be more going on behind the scenes that needs medical intervention, and sometimes therapy is an excellent place to start.
Take a look online or in your local area and point your friend in the direction of suicide prevention resources. If there are other issues at play such as struggling with sexuality or bereavement, there are a variety of places both online and in the local community that can offer your friend support.
It’s also important to recommend that they speak to their doctor. You may even want to offer to attend with them for moral support.
Help them make a self-care/crisis plan.
As much as I’m sure you would like to, it’s no always possible to be there for someone 24/7. It’s in these moments that it’s desperately important that there is a crisis plan in place. You can help your friend come up with a plan including the numbers of crucial people and services that can help should they be in immediate danger. Help them determine who their support system is, who they can approach and how they can go about it. But don’t just stop with a plan A. It’s best to have a plan B,C and even D should things progress further than expected.
A typical crisis plan should be completed while the individual is feeling well enough as they may be able to think more clearly. It should include the names of people and services the person can trust and feels safe contacting. They should have a clear understanding of when exactly the plan should be used such as the types of situations,thoughts, feelings etc that they may be experiencing in that moment. Finally there should be various information on how they can help calm themselves down, and they could even add a list of reasons why they need to continue fighting.
Of course, all plans are going to be different. No two people are the same and it’s important to remember this when helping them come up with their own safety plan.
Remember: Sometimes a safety plan won’t be enough. In this case, it’s important that they contact professionals. Details for local A&E departments, doctors, etc should be included in the plan as a last resort.
If you or someone you know has been effected by suicide or thoughts of suicide, please see below for a list of resources.
UK / Northern Ireland.
- The Samaritans: 116 123 or samaritans.org.
- Shout: Text Shout to 85258 or giveusashout.org.
- Mind: 0300 123 3393 or mind.org.uk.
- CALM: 0800 58 58 58 or thecalmzone.net. [Males or male identifying only].
Find more services here.
Are you in the USA or elsewhere? Check out the following link for a wide variety of helplines across the world.