3. BE WILLING TO GIVE AND GET HELP SOONER RATHER THAN LATER
Suicide prevention is not a last minute activity. All textbooks on depression say it should be reached as soon as possible. Unfortunately, suicidal people are afraid that trying to get help may bring them more pain: being told they are stupid, foolish, sinful, or manipulative; rejection; punishment; suspension from school or job; written records of their condition; or involuntary commitment. You need to do everything you can to reduce pain, rather than increase or prolong it. Constructively involving yourself on the side of life as early as possible will reduce the risk of suicide.
Give the person every opportunity to unburden his troubles and ventilate his feelings. You don't need to say much and there are no magic words. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it. Give him relief from being alone with his pain; let him know you are glad he turned to you. Patience, sympathy, acceptance. Avoid arguments and advice giving.
5. ASK: "ARE YOU HAVING THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE?"
Myth: "Talking about it may give someone the idea." People already have the idea; suicide is constantly in the news media. If you ask a despairing person this question you are doing a good thing for them: you are showing him that you care about him, that you take him seriously, and that you are willing to let him share his pain with you. You are giving him further opportunity to discharge pent up and painful feelings. If the person is having thoughts of suicide, find out how far along his ideation has progressed.
6. IF THE PERSON IS ACUTELY SUICIDAL, DO NOT LEAVE HIM ALONE
If the means are present, try to get rid of them. Detoxify the home.
7. URGE PROFESSIONAL HELP
Persistence and patience may be needed to seek, engage and continue with as many options as possible. In any referral situation, let the person know you care and want to maintain contact.
8. NO SECRETS
It is the part of the person that is afraid of more pain that says "Don't tell anyone." It is the part that wants to stay alive that tells you about it. Respond to that part of the person and persistently seek out a mature and compassionate person with whom you can review the situation. (You can get outside help and still protect the person from pain causing breaches of privacy.) Do not try to go it alone. Get help for the person and for yourself. Distributing the anxieties and responsibilities of suicide prevention makes it easier and much more effective.
9. FROM CRISIS TO RECOVERY
Most people have suicidal thoughts or feelings at some point in their lives; yet less than 2% of all deaths are suicides. Nearly all suicidal people suffer from conditions that will pass with time or with the assistance of a recovery program. There are hundreds of modest steps we can take to improve our response to the suicidal and to make it easier for them to seek help. Taking these modest steps can save many lives and reduce a great deal of human suffering.
How You Can Help
Most suicides can be prevented by sensitive responses to the person in crisis. If you think someone you know may be suicidal, you should:
- Remain calm. In most instances, there is no rush. Sit and listen - really listen to what the person is saying. Give understanding and active emotional support for his or her feelings.
- Deal directly with the topic of suicide. Most individuals have mixed feelings about death and dying and are open to help. Don't be afraid to ask or talk directly about suicide.
- Encourage problem solving and positive actions. Remember that the person involved in emotional crisis is not thinking clearly; encourage him or her to refrain from making any serious, irreversible decisions while in a crisis. Talk about the positive alternatives which may establish hope for the future.
- Get assistance. Although you want to help, do not take full responsibility by trying to be the sole counsel. Seek out resources which can lend qualified help, even if it means breaking a confidence. Let the troubled person know you are concerned - so concerned that you are willing to arrange help beyond that which you can offer.