There are lots of reasons why people might feel suicidal, or start experiencing suicidal thoughts. The first thing that you should know is never to take it personally. Whether you’re a friend, a colleague, partner or housemate - it’s not about you and it’s not because you’re not enough.
So, what can you do for someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts?
Give space - but be in it
Firstly, small things become big things for many people who experience depression and particularly anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts. This means that small inconveniences can feel overwhelming. Be mindful of this, because it might feel unrelatable to someone who has never experienced feeling unwell in this way. On the flipside of this, small things like a text, phone call or gesture that shows you’re thinking of us also feel big, and mean a lot. Our thought processes might slow down while we’re experiencing these feelings and thoughts. Even if our brain is in overdrive - it might take us a while to process what you’ve said and think of a response or work out a way of putting a sentence together. We often need quite a bit of time and space before we can express ourselves.
As someone who is supporting a person who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, it can be confusing. Our instinctive response might be to give advice. We might try and fill the silences. We might try everything to distract the person and entertain them. These things are sometimes not what a person experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideation needs. Sometimes just sitting in a space together can be what our loved one needs - this might be sitting in silence, or very slow, sporadic conversation. Advice might feel alienating and extremely stressful. Social expectation and pressure can feel crippling. We often just need someone here with us, proving to ourselves we still exist. If you’re giving space to talk, but not forcing it, you’re supporting us.
During times of depression and/or suicidal thoughts, we’re probably experiencing feelings of worthlessness. This will mean that we don’t want to “burden” people around us with our feelings. We might not be proactive in reaching out because we don’t want to be annoying or impose ourselves on anyone.
So, reaching out to us can be really important. There might also be some nudges we’ll need to be able to talk or express how we’re feeling. For example, asking us “how are you?” might be responded to with a fairly generic answer that we feel you want to hear. Asking us “on a scale of 1 to 10, how are you feeling?” might attain a more meaningful response.
Similarly, rather than telling you “I feel like hurting myself tonight”, we might say something like “I need a distraction tonight” or “can we do something?”. Keep this in mind so as not to miss any coded messages. Some things are too hard to say or ask for, but they might be asked for in a different, more subtle way.
Recognise important shifts
Suicidal thoughts and suicidal intent are not the same thing. Someone can have suicidal thoughts with no intention of actually attempting to complete suicide. However, sometimes suicidal thoughts do reach a stage where we have suicidal intent.
Learn about the signs and be aware of any shifts in behaviour. Remember though, that we can get really good at hiding these signs, they can often be very subtle and very easy to miss. So if something happens to your loved one and you missed a sign, it’s really important to know that it is not your fault.
Look after yourself
While you’re supporting someone who’s struggling with mental ill health such as suicidal thoughts, it can be really tough on you. Keep an eye on your own wellbeing during this time. Take a step back and utilise a wider support network if you start to find things very difficult. If you’re not okay yourself, you can’t help anyone else. Reach out for the help that you need as well, and make sure you’re talking and taking the time you need for your own self care.
Remember that blogs and social media are not a substitute for therapy or any other mental health intervention. If you’re struggling, talk to someone. If you can, seek professional help. If you’re stuck, send me a message.