It can be very frightening to realise that someone close to you has thought about taking their own life. It can be paralysing and a common fear can be that their death is inevitable. The information on this page aims to show you that you don’t have to feel powerless. There is a lot we can do to help someone.
Ask how they’re feeling
- Don’t be afraid to ask the direct question – are they suicidal?
- Use clear language. Example of what you could say: “You seem really low and I’m worried about you. Are you thinking of ending your life?”
Many people don’t ask this for two reasons: they’re afraid of putting the idea into someone’s head, and they are afraid if the answer is yes, that they won’t know what to do.
Simply asking the question does not give someone the idea. Thoughts of suicide generally develop slowly over a long period of time, and after a series of difficulties in life. By asking the question you’re acknowledging their distress, and giving them an opportunity to talk about something that is probably very frightening for them. If the answer is yes, don’t panic. There is no 'one' right phrase that will change the way someone is thinking. The best you can do is to listen to them without judgement or blame.
Listen and understand
- Give them some space to explain what is going on for them, and how they feel about it. Read tips on being a good listener at YourMentalHealth.ie.
- Avoid responses which reject how they are feeling, which minimise how they feel, or which try to change their view of their situation.
Take it seriously
You might want to believe anything except that this could be happening to your loved one. You may be tempted to believe it is just talk, an accident or attention-seeking behaviour. However, you have to believe there is a serious risk of death and accept that your loved one needs help to stay alive.
Keep in mind that nothing is going to change quickly. It has taken a long time for this person to get to this place. It will take some time for them to build up the supports and resources they need in order for their suicidal feelings and thoughts to end. Even once you have linked in with the health services, and your loved one has started to get support from others, their emotional distress will not disappear straight away. Their risk of suicide can remain for some time.
When someone is feeling suicidal, they can withdraw from everyone. Being connected to other people, and having people around that are caring and empathic, can reduce suicidal feelings.
Your loved one is going to need help and support from others, not just you. You should also try to think about who else can help – other family members, friends and work colleagues. They are also likely to need professional help. Go to YourMentalHealth.ie for information on the supports available.
Be aware of your own reactions
It can be upsetting and frightening when someone close attempts suicide or tells you they have suicidal thoughts. It is normal to react with anger, or to pretend that it is not real. You may be angry that something so terrible is happening to someone you love. You may feel guilty that you haven’t been able to prevent this. You may feel responsible for how they feel.
Whatever your reaction is, this is normal for you. However, you must try to separate your feelings from how your loved one feels. Don’t deny your feelings, but it is important to know that negative reactions can make the situation worse. They may increase the person’s feelings of guilt and shame. It is important that you can put your feelings aside while you respond to your loved one. Try to remain as calm as possible when you’re talking with them. You can express your anger, fear and other negative feelings with someone else.
Know your limits
Remember that there is only so much you can do. At some point the other person has to decide they want to take the help that is being offered. You cannot force them to make the choices that you want them to make. Be aware of the impact on your own mental well-being. You need to mind yourself, or else you won’t be of any use to anyone else.
Every single one of us will experience tough times in our lives. YourMentalHealth.ie is a place to learn about mental health, and how to support yourself and the people you love. You can find support services near you, and learn about the #littlethings that can make a big difference to how we all feel.