Updated: Jul 24, 2022
When people are having thoughts of ending their life, often no one really listens, until it is too late.
How many of you have ever had a thought, "I wish I could just go to sleep and never wake up"?, or "Everyone would be better off without me." These are NOT selfish thoughts. More people than you know have had these thoughts at some point in their life. A deep disconnection to life and to who you are happens to many, many people, myself included. If this persists, painful feelings and a deep depression can set in, and the cycle can go downhill. This is why this blog is opening up the topic of how to talk about these thoughts, if you are the person having these thoughts, and more importantly, if you are the person who has the chance to listen to someone share these thoughts.
Most people have their close friends and their confidants, and yet, even those closest to us do not often want to talk about suicide with those we love. We would rather give pep talks - "Come on, it's not that bad. You'll be okay", or even shame the other person, "You can't be feeling that bad; look how good you have it?" We don't mean to. It's just that we don't know how to sit with these feelings ourselves, so it is very difficult to sit with someone else having these feelings. Sometimes, even when the person tells us they have thoughts of not wanting to go on, we think that cannot really mean it. We may think they just want attention; or we may think they are being selfish for even thinking that way. Even if you believe those things; these are all thoughts that get in the way of being able to help someone find hope.
THE most important take away from this blog is to give yourself permission to talk about suicide. Research shows that talking about suicide will NOT increase a person's thoughts of suicide or likelihood to commit suicide. (Click here for more myths). If you notice a family member, friend, co-worker, even a stranger expressing things that indicate they are ready to "give up" or ready to "just quit". ALWAYS be prepared to ask if that means they are thinking about suicide. The worst that can happen is they say, "No. I would never do that." You can breathe a little easier, and listen knowing they are not having thoughts of really giving up.
If that person says, "Yes", then allowing them to talk about these thoughts, what they have been thinking about doing or planning, and how long they have been having these thoughts, helps them let someone know their secret. It lets them know they matter to someone; someone cares about what they have been thinking about and feeling. Here are some good questions and things to say:
1) Have you been thinking about ending your life?
2) How long has this been on your mind?
3) Have you been planning how to end your life?
4) What are you thinking about doing?
5) If I stay with you, can we call the suicide prevention hotline?
6) I don't know what it is like to feel like you are feeling, but I care about you feeling better (or getting help to feel better). What else can you tell me?
Things to avoid saying:
1) I know just what you are going through, and you will be okay.
2) You can't think like that. Just imagine what it would do to your mother (or anyone).
3) That is selfish. We all love you.
4) That is a sin; God will never forgive you.
5) It can't be that bad; a lot of people have it worse than you.
6) Don't talk like that. Get your head screwed on straight.
If you catch yourself saying the things to avoid, just catch yourself, and apologize. We all get anxious or scared about suicide. Then go back to the things to try to ask/say.
Finally, try to come to help the person come up with a plan to keep safe before you leave them. Meaning, you stay with them while they call their parents or spouse or whomever, so that person can tell their loved one about their thoughts of suicide. This is important, so the person closest to that person can check on them and be sure they are getting some help. It may include calling the suicide prevention hotline while you are with this person. It may even include having the person give you the bottle of pills they were going to take to overdose. Whatever the plan, get some commitment that the person agrees to stay safe and get help, and ALWAYS tell someone else (your boss if you are at work, their parents, the hotline or whomever). Never promise to keep it a secret.
Checking on each other is paramount is creating connection and safer communities. Please have easy access to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Hours: Available 24 hours. Languages: English, Spanish.