What to Do When Someone You Love Talks About Suicide
It can be nerve-wracking to have an honest conversation with a loved one about mental health, and even more so if you find out they have been having thoughts of suicide. If someone is comfortable enough with you to open up about their suicidal thoughts, as scary as it seems, this is actually a positive thing. It means your loved one trusts you and is giving you the opportunity to provide support. Being able to talk to someone about suicidal feelings can decrease the stigma around mental health and alleviate feelings of isolation.
Having a conversation about suicide can be uncomfortable because you may feel an immense amount of pressure to say and do the right thing to support your loved ones. To help you be prepared for such a difficult conversation, read this guideline and make a plan ahead of time for how you can best support the people you love.
Start by Listening
If a loved one mentions to you they have been having suicidal thoughts, let them know that you take them seriously and are there to listen to them. You can say something like, “Thank you for opening up to me about what you have been going through. I care so much about you and will always be here for you.”
Offering words of genuine support will let them know that they are not alone.
You can show that you are actively listening by encouraging them to keep talking about their experience. Let them know that you want to know more and don’t be afraid to ask detailed questions like, “How long have you been feeling this way?”
Validate Their Feelings
After listening to what your loved one needed to say, show empathy for their situation and validate their emotions. You can say “That must be really difficult,” or “I understand you have been struggling with this, is there anything I can help you with to ease your pain?”
You will also want to make a conscious effort not to minimize any of their feelings. Avoid placing any blame on them, and do not criticize them or judge them in any way.
Ask How They Are Coping
Having thoughts of suicide does not put someone in immediate danger. They may already be taking steps to cope with their feelings, or they might need the extra push to get help. The following questions can help you gauge how your loved one is coping:
- How often do you feel this way?
- What scares you about these thoughts?
- What can be done to help you feel more secure?
- What do you do when your thoughts get really bad?
- Have you ever hurt yourself?
- Are you afraid to be alone at times?
- Do you have a plan to help navigate your feelings?
Follow Their Lead
Talking about mental health can be very challenging and emotionally exhausting. Let your loved one know that they can take a break, if talking becomes too difficult.
Suggest Seeking Professional Help
If your loved one is not already working with a mental health professional, it is time to encourage them to seek help. You can reassure them help is available and that their suicidal thoughts indicate it is time to talk with a professional.
Suggesting professional help can be a difficult conversation to bring up. Here are some ways you can approach that conversation:
- “I understand you have been going through a difficult time. I would like to help connect you with resources that are available to help you.”
- “It takes a lot of courage to admit you are struggling. Talking to someone who is trained to help you through this could be so helpful.”
- “Everyone could benefit from therapy. We all face serious challenges sometimes, and talking to a professional can help us process our emotions.”
If you are met with resistance to the idea of seeking professional help, you could suggest online therapy. For some people, online therapy is less intimidating than having to meet someone new in person. Keep in mind, many people don’t even know where to begin when it comes to seeking professional help, meaning your loved one may just need some assistance finding a mental health professional.
You can offer to help your loved one get connected with a professional. This could help make the task less daunting, and make them feel more supported. Offer to help them call their insurance company and get a recommendation for a mental health clinic. You can also offer to drop them off for their appointments, or go on a lunch date with them after each appointment.
If They Refuse Help
There’s a chance that your loved one may not be ready to put their trust in a professional. Opening up to you was already a proactive step forward, and that might be as much as they can handle at this time. As long as they are not in immediate danger, there is no need to push too hard.
Let them know that you understand where they are coming from and that you are there to help them if they change their mind, or when they are ready. Reiterate that professional help can make a difference in managing their mental health, but then give them space to process your suggestions. You can always readdress the conversation at a later date if your loved one continues to struggle.
You can also offer additional resources to them that they can utilize on their own for mental health help. They can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 for help or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741. They can also reach out to Jackson House at 888-255-9280 if they have any questions about receiving mental health treatment.
What If They Mention Suicide on Social Media?
In the digital age we live in today, your loved one might seek help by posting about their suicidal thoughts on social media. It might seem more difficult to start a conversation when they are not directly confiding in you face to face. However, a cry for help should be taken seriously whether it be in person, on social media, through a text, or any other signs that suggest they are struggling.
You should still reach out to them to start a conversation following the same guideline above. Let them know you care for them, listen to what they are willing to share, and ask questions to help encourage them to keep talking and seek help.
Other steps you can take to address mental health concerns online include:
- Flagging or reporting posts about self-harm. Many social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram will share mental health resources with members who they suspect are at risk of self-harm. They may even contact local authorities depending on the situation.
- Call 911 if someone posts content engaging in self-harm. They are in immediate danger, and likely in need of medical assistance.
- You can always call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline to receive additional advice on how to help out a friend in need.
After having a conversation with a loved one about their mental health, make sure to end it on a positive note. Remind them again just how much you care for them and how proud of them you are that they were able to talk about their challenges. Let them know that you are grateful to be able to connect with them on such a deep level, and that you always want to know what obstacles they are going through. It’s so important that they know they will have your continued support and that they are not alone.
At Jackson House, our specialists and in-house volunteers vow to help any and all individuals overcome their most severe mental obstacles. Contact us today to receive the help you need to continue living life to its fullest.
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If you’re a provider and need to send us information on a client, please feel free to fax us at 619-303-7044. If you need help immediately, call our 24-hour crisis line at 1-800-766-4274. If you have a medical emergency, call 911. Jackson House is licensed by the State of California Community Care Licensing Division and certified by the Department of Health Care Services. We are also CARF Accredited. If you have any client or quality of care concerns, please reach out to us at (888) 255-9280. If your concerns need further attention, you can contact the Department of Public Health at 619-278-3700 or the Community Care Licensing Division at 1-844-538-8766.