Most importantly, don't freak out. Don't become someone they have to avoid because their pain triggers your pain and you freak out. Instead, remain calm, curious and empathic. Give advice only if it feels right to do so. Do what you can do, and then let go and let God. Lighten up so that they might lighten up.
Supporting suicidality can be very challenging, and this is often because we haven't yet come to terms with our own pain, or our own fear of death.
I have experience both supporting a roommate with suicidal urges, as well as my own depressions that came with suicidal urges. Here are my thoughts.
When my roommate was having suicidal urges, I often woke to find her crying in the next room. But not once did I freak out. Not once did I lose it. I remained calm and warm and empathetic, and she even told me later that "you are keeping me alive"
Why was I able to remain so calm? Why didn't I freak out?
I remained calm because I am ok with sadness, and I am also ok with death.
I was able to remain calm because 1) there's nothing wrong with sadness and tears. 2) suicidal thoughts are just thoughts, and 3) if someone really wants to kill themselves, I really can't stop them.
Don't get me wrong: We definitely don’t want anyone to kill themselves. Its definitely best if they don't. But if someone really wants to die, there will no stopping them.. And if we can accept this - the reality of the situation - then we can remain calm, and we will likely be a lot more helpful. On every level. We might suggest a visit to the hospital. We might suggest a walk in the park together to clear our heads. We might suggest a lot of things, or we might just listen and love. And these suggestions will come to mind because we are in a calm, cool, collected state, not overcome by emotions.
And, personally, I don't believe in admitting people to the hospital by force...unless maybe I had a strong intuition to do so. The outcome of that could go several ways, and one of those outcomes is that in the future she may not tell me if she is feeling suicidal again. She might hide it so she is not forced again to do something against her will.
Now I don’t know the stats on hospitals stays for suicidality, but I do know that’s its the last place I would want to be, personally.
Let me ask you, if you were very depressed, would you want your friends to stick you in a white building with crappy food, fluorescent lights, surrounded by strangers, forcing you to take mood-altering drugs? I know I wouldn't. And next time I feel suicidal, I would probably avoid anyone who put me there.
At the same time, I'm sure hospitals have saved many lives too - but that's probably because the person connected with a truly caring, wonderful psychiatrist while in there, and/or a medication that worked for them. But not everyone is so lucky. Having seen several psychiatrists and tried several medications myself, I know that their ability to benefit us varies greatly, and they also can be addictive and can do harm. (and psychiatrists can also be addictive and do harm, but that's a whole other important topic).
I also know for sure that many 1000’s of people go to hospitals each year, and come out worse than when they went in. Due to medical error, superbugs, and/or reactions to medications. And if the cause of their depression is really poverty or loneliness, then a hospital stay will not solve those problems.
And yes, trauma is also a very common cause, as are head injuries, and I would even argue that things like heavy metal toxicity or gut imbalances, food sensitivities or deficiencies may also be root causes. But be aware that their problem may have its roots in the real world, in a situation that has gone on for a long time, or even in their body in some form - biology. Assume that you don't know.
So please don't assume that the problem is in their head. And by the way, no one likes to be told they have a "mental health" issue, so I would be careful about using those words.
Some Possible Causes of Suicidality Include:
There are many causes of suicidality. They may be feeling helpless, hopeless or worthless due to an ongoing situation in the real world:
- a chronic health issue that has been going on for so long, that they feel like giving up
- chronic pain that has gone on for a while
- poverty that has gone on for a while
- job loss, they don't know how they will pay for things
- post-partem depression
- maybe they are going trough a particularly painful break up
- depression due to having stopped taking a medication (withdrawal and relapse)
- and many other real-life situations
Next, don’t try to change them. Don't give them a bunch of unsolicited advice, or try to talk them into anything forcefully. You can certainly suggest - but don't become a person they feel they need to avoid because you can't handle reality. If that does happen, then you should probably seek support for yourself, and take some space from them.
Instead, ask them if there is anything they need, or how you might help. I like to say, “Let me know if there is ever anything I can do for you” or "I'm available to listen if you want someone to talk to". If they accept that, then listen, and for God’s sake, be gentle. Don’t give a bunch of advice, and do be curious about them. Don’t make the conversation all about you, what you think they should do, and what you would do in their shoes.
Be gentle and come from curiosity and empathy.
You can definitely ask ‘Would you like a suggestion?’, that’s respectful and then you’ll have more of their attention. And then if you do make a suggestion, keep it short.
But you’re really beginning with Curiosity, and that way you’ll find out more about *why* they feel so hopeless or helpless or worthless.
Then you might offer, “Can I drop off some tasty soup I made?” “Would you like to grab a coffee this week or go to a movie, on me?” Sometimes people are just lonely and a friend would make all the difference. Sometimes they just haven't been shown any real love in a while.
Sometimes - people are just feeling very unappreciated. And then a few words of appreciation can be magical. “You know, I’ve always thought you are one of the most lovely people I know. I really appreciate your presence here”.
But in the end, the hardest part of responding to suicidality may not be about them at all. It's often us. We often freak out. Their pain triggers our own pain, and we become controlling, or aggressive, or just really emotional or even depressed. And none of that helps them.
And maybe the best solution to suicidality is our developing Spirituality. I'm talking a out having a point of view that has Faith in Life as a part of it. That things really are ok, and are being worked out, no matter how they look. That no matter how tough their situation seems to be, God or Life in Its Intelligence, is taking care of them, as with all things, and we do not know how things should change or when. Sometimes people even go through very trying circumstances - and ten years later they look back and say, "That was the best thing that ever happened to me!"
So don't freak out and make their situation into a problem. Learn to see the good in everything that goes on in the world. Recognize that they are not their personality but an immortal Soul, that cannot die. Lighten up, and maybe you will help them lighten up too.
So I suggest we: 1) relax and not freak out, 2) be gentle and lead with empathy, 3) offer appreciation, and 4) do our part, and know that God will do the rest.
My Top Tips for Healing Anxiety and Depression