Ways To Offer Support To Those Dealing With Suicidal Impulses
In the wake of the tragic death of Matthew Warren, son of internationally known pastor Rick Warren, the Christian Counseling community, myself included, have been practically unable to avoid discussing the mental health issues that lead to his untimely passing, especially depression.
What I have avoided until now, was discussing dealing with suicidal feelings or impulses in people with mental illnesses. It is a difficult topic to handle and make sure you are being respectful to the families who have lost beloved fathers, daughters, mothers, and sons, in light that there is no way for me to fully comprehend the pain they are handling.
While I have read about the topic, and had many discussions with individuals struggling with the feeling, there is simply no way to put yourself completely in the shoes of someone coping post suicide.
Despite this, I am driven to offer support and advice as well as I can to help prevent tragedies like this from happening to others, if possible. The best defense against suicide is education as to how to make others struggling with these issues feel comfortable confiding in you, and how to respond if someone does decide to confess their problems to you, with some help from a recent article at Mental Health Grace Alliance.
The most important factor is listening. Suicide is a difficult topic and can raise emotions, but if someone near you has taken the leap to be honest with you, it is essential to avoid judgement or avoid the topic out of discomfort. Hear them out, and truly try to understand what is causing them to feel this way so that you can have an honest conversation about the feelings. Saying “don’t think like that” or “don’t talk like that” only push them away and make the individual feel as if they shouldn’t have opened up.
Figuring out how to handle the situation means carefully trying to get information from the person dealing with suicidal impulses. Some may not want to talk or may avoid giving hard information, but try to find out if they have a plan in mind, such as a date/time to commit it or how they think they will do so, as well as if they have the materials to hurt themselves as they describe. Also try to find out how long they have been wrestling with the feelings.
If a person has a set plan or time frame for possibly committing suicide, do not leave them alone. Even if you are not a professional, your caring and support will help, while you consider what further steps to take.
Talking to a person dealing with suicidal ideation is one of the best things you can do, above all else. Ask them to tell you about what has been going on in their lives and look for things that might be triggering suicidal emotions. Never disparage or trivialize their emotions, but validate their problems and show empathy. Help them see their own positive attributes, and ways to work towards a brighter future while understanding there is no immediate fix.
If talking hasn’t helped calm the friend/family member/etc., down, see if they are interested in trying relaxation techniques like deep breathing or mindfulness. Helping someone slow their brain down, and possibly get their mind off the problems at hand if they are ready for that, can help them get to a safer emotional state.
Once a crisis situation has been averted, you can’t abandon the individual. Just because they aren’t showing signs of suicidal thoughts the day after, they are almost certainly still struggling. Encourage the person to seek professional hep, including helping them find the services and emphasizing that there is no reason to be ashamed for dealing with these types of issues.
There are no quick fixes for individuals dealing with suicide. Recovery to a more healthy mental state takes time, patience, and continuous support. It can be emotionally draining and sometimes can feel hopeless, but there is always a chance to help rescue someone from the edge with a safe, non-judgmental environment.
Our hearts go out to those that have lost someone out of this struggle. Many of my articles this week have directly addressed the tragic suicide of Matthew Warren. The family needs time to heal and come to terms with their heartbreaking loss, away from the public eye and media. We offer our deepest condolences and hope they will someday find relief from their boundless pain.