Contemplating death can be quite frightening for most people and something we prefer to avoid. However, when someone is suffering and in pain they may actively consider suicide as a way of escape. About 1.8% of deaths worldwide are due to suicide, and for every incident of death by suicide there are about 20 attempts. If you have a friend whom you believe is contemplating suicide, you can make a difference and do something to prevent the worst from happening.
Be Aware of the Signs
So that you don’t jump to false conclusions, here are some of the warnings signs of suicidal behavior:
- Expressing a desire to end one’s life
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Making unnecesary plans to ‘tidy up one’s affairs’
- Talk of feeling like a burden
- Expressing thoughts of hopelessness
- Losing a ‘protective factor’ or a ‘reason to live’
- Self-harming or excessively risky behaviours
- Sudden mood swing from depression to calm resolution
- Abusing substances like alcohol and drugs
Make time for your friend as much as you can and find ways to initiate a conversation with them. If they start to open up to you, give them your full and undivided attention and listen intently. Offer your friend the opportunity to freely express all their pent-up emotions. This may be a cathartic experience for them, and it will help relieve some of their emotional burden.
Offer genuine empathy to your friend and strive to be open to what they have to say. Avoid judging them or making comments that invalidate their experience. Try not to give unsolicited advice or make comparisons with others. Empathy involves imagining the thoughts and feelings of the other person in a non-judgemental way such that person feels deeply understood. So stay focused on the needs of your friend during this crisis, which will pass.
Checking for details of any suicide plan is very important. Try indirectly gathering the facts about any changes in their behaviour or routines while conversing with them. It is also crucial to gauge their level of intent and if they are truly resolute about following through on any plans. Enquire if they have made any preparations and gathered the means for hurting themselves such as hoarding medications.
Keep the Hope Alive
As much as possible, help your friend hold on to a sense of hope about the future. Help them to get through the current crisis by affirming that they will think and feel differently in the near future. You should remind them about periods in the past when they were happier and coping better with life. You may revive positive memories using photographs of more joyful times. Some experts in suicide crises use life affirming quotes which they include in a resource called a ‘Hope Box’. Sharing online resources with your friend may be helpful here. For future access save those photos and quotes on file or keep them in image posting apps.
Call for Professional Help
If your friend is open to accepting professional help, assist them to seek out a referral to a counselling service through their GP. If the situation escalates, contact the emergency hotline immediately (Lifeline 131114, Lifeline 1300 224636, or Ambulance/Police 000). Remain calm and stay with the person until help arrives.
More often than not, people who have suicidial thoughts desperately want help but can’t express it directly. It will mean a great deal to your friend if you offer even the smallest gesture of support. And remember to practice self-care and consider counselling for yourself if you feel traumatised after helping someone in a suicidial crisis.