Some content refers to suicide, abuse and other possible triggering details. If you are triggered, please put your self-care strategies into action and access necessary supports immediately.
For someone who has never experienced suicidal thoughts, it is hard to comprehend how a person can think this way and more often than not, it is believed that you ‘just need to think positive and appreciate all that you have’ or should remember ‘others have it worse than you’. Truly, if it was this easy, we who experience suicidality, would do just that.
Suicidality is an all-consuming state and the persistent thoughts of taking your own life, cycle round and round constantly. Also, for many of us, even when we are asleep our dreams continue on the same line as our waking thoughts.
I would like to ask, once you have read the following, that you close your eyes and recall this example in your mind, repeatedly, imagining living with these thoughts 24/7.
Consider this. You are being followed around by someone, constantly, saying to things like: -
You are a burden to your family. Your family don’t love you. You bring down the mood in others everywhere you go. You are hard work to be around and friends are sick of your negativity. You are worthless, useless. You are ugly, to fat, to skinny, clumsy, inept, dumb, a drain on peoples’ energy, a liability, insignificant, hopeless, inadequate, pathetic, incompetent, hopeless, stupid, laughable, defective, incapable, pathetic, tragic, high maintenance, ridiculous, wretched, pitiful, despicable, you don’t deserve to live; it goes on and on.
If you were to encounter a person like this, what do you think you do? I believe that after little more than 10 minutes, most people would remove themselves from this persons presence and avoid this person who has continually put you down and never have anything to do with them again.
Now consider these put downs being in your head 24/7, there is no escape. You cannot remove yourself from its presence, avoid their recurrence and persistence, separate yourself from them, not even seeking privacy and space by hiding in the toilet will stop these put downs being voiced in your head. These thoughts make you feel worse and the worse you feel, the worse the thoughts become. There is no escape.
You may say, “you just need something positive to look forward to”. To this I will ask. If you were to experience this repetitively and know that you will encounter this time and time again for that balance of your life, can you see that this overwhelming, crushing state would weigh so heavily on you that you can’t see anything positive, at all?
I don’t promote suicide, but I will tell you that the act is more often than not selfless. Once you decline into a state where you no longer have any perception that you are loved by your family and friends, it changes to being imbued by a belief that you would be doing a good thing for them, it would be favourable for them. You have witnessed their distress, sadness, frustration, anger, sense of helplessness, suffering, anguish, concern, angst, dejection, annoyance, exasperation, resentment, worry and so on. These beliefs just support and reconfirm that it would be a benefit to them if you were no longer here. We know that they will be upset and hurt, however thoughts of loved ones experiencing this is outweighed by the perceived benefit and relief to them that it is over.
How do you approach someone you believe might be suicidal? Gently, but still be direct. Don’t be afraid of asking “are you contemplating suicide”, “are you considering taking your life”, “are you thinking of killing yourself”, “are you suicidal”. Asking the question will not entice them to act on their thoughts or plan and may very well save their life through you having interacted with them and identified the seriousness of the situation.
So, what then? OMG they said they are suicidal, what the hell do I do now? It will be unsettling for you, maybe even frightening, but please be assured you have done the right thing and you may be the only thing in that moment standing between them and death. I want you to refer to the following steps that has helped me in the past. Please remember this is from my experiences of suicidality and don’t necessarily apply to everyone experiencing suicidality. There is no exact way to deal with being faced with this situation. Just be yourself, put things in your words.
Don’t tell them it is wrong to think like that, or give examples of why they haven’t got it so bad. You will come across as judgemental and more than likely cause them to become defensive or withdraw.
Don’t try and ‘fix’ the situation, unless of course you are a Doctor or Psychiatric worker and if you are not, you are not qualified to provide the clinical interventions required. Getting the person to the professionals is one of the goals.
Precede your enquires with ‘do you mind if I ask XYZ?’, ‘have you considered it might be time for/to’?, ‘can I help by/would it help if I?’, so that it does not come across that you are dictating to them and it also puts some responsibility back on them. It empowers them and enables them to feel/have some sense of control.
Through the above queries, try to obtain details you can provide to emergency/clinical services when you assist in accessing professional services. Some of the best information you can provide to the professionals relate to the following. Remember to put them in your own words to make it as comfortable and natural for yourself.
How were you thinking of taking your life? (this allows you to remove their method to carry out their plan).
Is there a day/time you have planned to do this? (this identifies how far along they are in carrying out their plan).
Have you put your plan to take your life into action before?
Have you been in hospital before? How many times?
I am going to ring the hospital now to organise some help for you. Then call the local Mental Health Triage line.
Is there a friend or family member you would like me to call to support you through this?
Is there something I can do for you to help while we are waiting for friend/family/ ambulance/triage team, etc.
By the way, even if the person is resistant to accessing professional services, openly say something like “I cannot leave you like this, I need to make sure you are safe and the only way I can do that is by getting professional help for you. I am not qualified/experienced/knowledgeable enough to be able to support you and I am very scared for/concerned about you”.
You can ask the person if they would like to talk about what they are feeling, thinking or experiencing. Just bear in mind there is not necessarily a reason for experiencing suicidality. Sometimes there wasn’t a triggering event and even if there was, they may not be able to identify it. Sometimes ‘it just is’, it is caused by the fluctuating chemical imbalance in the brain and therefore there isn’t any identifiable reason. Also, it is common for the person to be withdrawn with no desire to talk about anything.
As I tell all my Mental Illness Lived Experience presentation audiences, our experience of mental illness (or suicidality) is unique to each of us. Our experiences are as unique to us, as we are a unique individual. Having said that, for most of us there are similarities in the progression from early/subtle suicidal thoughts to actioning our plan/method to take our own life. My diagram at the end of this blog will provide you a visual reference and supporting information.
Remember always; if someone takes their own life, no matter what you did or didn’t do, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT!
I hope the above helps and gives you some reference to the complexity of suicidality.
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