9 Steps To Help A Loved One Having Suicidal Thoughts
If you know someone who is experiencing despair, depression, or suicidal thoughts because of the outbreak, you may be wondering what you can do to help.
During the pandemic, many Americans, particularly children, and teenagers have reported that their symptoms have gotten worse. Between March and October, the number of children seeking treatment for mental health issues increased significantly in hospital emergency rooms.
The vast majority of Americans believe that suicide is preventable and that they would help someone in danger if they knew about it. However, many of us are paralyzed by our fear of making a mistake. Doreen Marshall, a psychologist and vice president of programs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, says that you don’t have to be a trained professional to lend a hand.
She asserts that “everyone has a role to play” in the effort to prevent suicide. However, “the vast majority of people are reluctant to speak up. ‘Trust your intuition.’ Take action if you’re concerned about someone.” According to Marshall, the first step is simply reaching out. Even though it may seem like a small thing, suicide survivors and suicide experts say it can have a long-lasting effect.
Ursula Whiteside, a psychologist and faculty member at the University Of Washington School Of Medicine, believes that simple acts of connection can have a powerful effect.
As Whiteside points out, “looking out for each other reduces [suicide risk].” ‘Because connected people are less likely to commit suicide.’ According to her, the less suffering someone has to endure the earlier they are caught.
I have compiled a list of nine things you can do to help:
1. Determine Potential Dangers and Recognize the Signs Of Them
Marshall recommends keeping an eye out for changes in mood and behavior as indicators of suicidal thoughts. For instance, Marshall cites an example of a person who is usually part of a group or activity but hasn’t been showing up recently. An “even-tempered person” who “seems to be easily irritated or enraged.”
Because of the pandemic, you may only be able to see your loved ones virtually; if they begin to withdraw from virtual spaces, you should pay attention, advises Whiteside. She speculates that “they’re not responding to phone calls or joining in on a call with family or they’re not on social media” as possible reasons. There are times, like when a friend begins to disappear when you should be curious about what’s going on with them.
Aside from these symptoms, there are many more. Also, pay attention to what they say.
People may talk about wanting to end their lives because they don’t see any purpose in life, Marshall says. “They may also talk about wanting to sleep and never wake up.” “Those are warning signs that [suicide] is on their mind. It may be framed as a desire to flee or escape from suffering.”
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) says that people who commit suicide often exhibit a combination of these warning signs.
According to Columbia University epidemiology professor Madelyn Gould, the signs of suicidal thoughts and behavior can vary from person to person. “It might be starting to have trouble sleeping for some people,” she says. A third party might easily feel rejected or humiliated as a result of this.
A person can lose control if they allow themselves to be exposed to too many risks, according to Gould.
2. “Are You OK?” Is a Good First Step
So, what do you do if you suspect that someone you care about is contemplating suicide? Suicide prevention experts advise people to reach out, check-in, and show they care. People who are suicidal and depressed aren’t likely to reach out to others, says Marshall. “It’s like they’re a burden to everyone else.”
DeQuincy Lezine, a psychologist and board member of the American Association of Suicidology, says that people who are contemplating suicide often feel trapped and alone. Suicide attempts have failed for him as well. A person’s sense of isolation is lessened when they receive support from others, according to him.
There is power in the fact that someone cares even if the words aren’t exactly right, according to Lezine.
Julie DeGolier, a medical assistant in Seattle and a survivor of suicide attempts, says that simple supportive gestures like “Are you doing OK?” and “If you need anything, let me know” can have a big impact on someone who is in emotional pain. It has the ability to break the downward spiral that can lead to a situation of crisis.
Do’s and don’ts for helping someone at risk of suicide can be found on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s website.
3. Directness Is Key: Inquire About The Possibility Of Suicide.
“Most people are afraid to ask about suicide because they don’t want to put the thought in their head,” says Marshall. “However, there is no evidence to back this up.”
Suicide can be prevented, according to her and other suicide prevention experts, by having an honest and compassionate conversation with someone who is at risk of committing suicide. Marshall explains that one can ask a direct question like, “Have you ever considered suicide?”
According to Gould, more general questions like, “What do you think of people who kill themselves?” can also initiate a discussion about suicide. You might not have had the conversation before they started talking about it now, but now they are.”
4. Suicidal Thoughts Aren’t Always An Emergency, So Don’t Freak Out.
What should you do if a close friend or family member tells you that they’ve been contemplating suicide? “Don’t panic,” Whiteside advises.
Many people think that a person contemplating suicide should be rushed to the hospital. This is not always the case. However, according to Marshall, “not everyone who expressed these thoughts needs to be hospitalized immediately.”
The majority of people with suicidal thoughts, according to Whiteside’s research, did not experience the kind of overwhelming thoughts that might lead to an attempt. This means that many more people have suicidal thoughts than actually carry them out.
5. Is There A Way To Tell Whether Or Not The Predicament Of A Loved One Is An Immediate Crisis?
Direct questions like “Are you thinking about killing yourself in the next few days?” should be asked, Whiteside advises as well as, “How strong are those impulses?”
A risk-assessment tool developed by Columbia University psychiatrists is the Columbia Protocol, based on their research-based rating scale for suicide severity. If your loved one has contemplated suicide, this guide provides six questions you can ask to see if that is the case and if the details of their plan are worked out.
People who have a plan in place are more likely to carry it out than those who don’t, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
6. Stick Around If It’s A Crisis.
In that case, what does it matter if your loved one has been assessed for risk and you fear that they are in an immediate crisis? In the first place, Whiteside advises that you ask them to hold off for a day or so, while still being “validating and gentle.”
Extreme emotions that might lead to rash behavior “usually resolve or become manageable in less than 24 or 48 hours,” according to her. Offer to stay with them during that time if, at all possible, she suggests you do. Alternatively, if being physically present is difficult due to the pandemic, consider offering to be available virtually via video call. Otherwise, help them find other immediate social support or medical help. They shouldn’t be alone during these difficult times.
If they have any means of harming themselves on hand, see if you can get them to get rid of them with your help. There is strong evidence that limiting or removing access to means of suicide can reduce deaths. Observe and offer encouragement to those who are in need. Survivors of suicide attempts like Lezine and DeGolier say that even if the person isn’t at risk, it’s still important to listen to them.
According to DeGolier, “the most important thing is to listen in an open-minded way, to not be judgmental.”
“Don’t direct someone’s actions. They want to be heard, and they want their feelings to be validated by others.”
It’s time to give people hope, Whiteside advises. Sayings like, “It’s helpful to say, “You’re a fighter, and I know it. I’ve seen you persevere in the face of adversity. I am confident that we can overcome this together “As she explains,
During one of his suicidal phases in college, one of Lezine’s closest friends did just that, according to him. According to Lezine, “for one thing, she never lost faith in me.” “She always thought I could have a good life and would succeed,” I said.
According to him, it was only because of her belief in him that he was able to resist the urge to give up on himself completely.
One of the most important factors in his recovery was having a confidante who “absolutely believed as a person” that he could “do something meaningful with [his] life.”
7. Assist a loved one in creating a safety strategy.
The best time to plan ahead for a future crisis is when someone isn’t in immediate danger of attempting suicide. “That’s where we want to make help-seeking and adaptive coping strategies a practice,” Gould says.
Suicide prevention experts recommend that people develop a “safety plan,” which has been shown to reduce the likelihood of suicide. An at-risk person and their mental health provider create it together, but family or friends can also help. It’s a simple plan for how to cope and get help when a crisis hits.
Create a safety plan with the help of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Lists of triggers and signs of impending crisis, people to whom the individual feels comfortable reaching out for support, and activities the individual can engage in to distract themselves during these times are all part of the process.
As part of your safety planning, you can work with your loved ones to make their surroundings more secure. One of the most significant steps to preventing suicide, according to Marshall, is having a discussion about the means they would use if they were to take their own life.
It may be possible to discover how you’re feeling if you inquire about what you’re thinking, she adds.
Additionally, if they aren’t willing to share, she suggests asking them directly. You can talk with them about how to limit their access to certain tools once they’ve revealed what they’re considering using.
There should be as much time and distance as possible between a person and harming themselves, Marshall deems. To make sure they don’t have ready access to a firearm in an emergency, “if this is someone who owns a gun, you may talk with them”
8. Support Their Efforts To Improve Access To Mental Health Services.
As DeGolier points out, it’s not always best to try to navigate mental health care when someone is in crisis mode. Although it is important to help your loved one find a mental health professional and learn how to manage their mood and suicidal thoughts, it is also important to help prevent a future crisis.
DBT, or dialectical behavior therapy, is a type of talk therapy that has been shown to reduce the risk of suicide. When suicidal thoughts arise, it teaches people how to calm their minds and divert their attention.
One benefit of the pandemic is that many more people now have access to mental health care because most appointments are now conducted virtually.
Even so, getting and keeping a mental health appointment can be difficult for someone who is experiencing negative emotions. Whiteside points out that family and friends can help.
She advises, “Know that persistence is required.” “As soon as you have an appointment, you keep going. As a result, you may end up calling 30 people before finding someone who is available. You take the day off of work and accompany them on their excursion.” When Lezine was going through a rough patch, he says he was fortunate to have had the assistance and encouragement of a college friend.
When he went to his appointment, “one of the things that were helpful… was she went with me,” he explains. People who are depressed or who believe they are no longer important may not want to put in the effort, think it is not worth their while, or say, “I don’t want to go through this.”
Most patients don’t show up for their first appointment or don’t follow up with their doctor, he says. It is possible to avoid this by having someone accompany you to all of your appointments and hold your hand throughout the process. During a pandemic, this can be difficult, but try to think outside the box: Be there for them in person or via video call if you can’t make it in person. Having another person who cares does make a difference, according to Lezine.
9. Look for Resources and Assistance on the Internet
Some evidence-based digital tools can also help those who struggle to get access to mental health care.
You can use an app like Virtual Hope Box, which mimics cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, to help you cope with anxiety or depression. The app helped veterans who were suicidal cope better with their negative emotions, according to a study.
Making eye contact with someone who is on the verge of taking their own life can be calming and distracting for someone who is on the verge of doing so.
Supporting a suicidal friend or loved one can be frightening and exhausting. Do what you can to help others and get the help you need.
No matter how hard you try, if your loved one persists in trying to take their own life, don’t put the blame on yourself. You did your best with the information you had at that time, so remind yourself of that and seek help for yourself, such as grief counseling or joining a support group for suicide survivors.
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