When you hear one of these phrases from a friend or family member, it’s terrifying:
“I want to die”
“I’ve been thinking about killing myself”
No one ever teaches us how to have these types of conversations. This article will give you some guidance on how to effectively communicate with your loved one, to support them, and get them to a place where they are out of immediate danger.
It’s not your job to fix this person or make them feel better. It’s your job to listen. You are a triage point of care. It’s your job to help ease painful symptoms and get this person to a qualified healthcare provider for care.
What to do when a loved one says: “I want to kill myself”
How to talk to someone who is suicidal
When a loved one calls you, emails you, texts you or says: “I’ve been thinking about killing myself”, these tips will help guide you in what to say:
Take yourself out of the conversation. It might make you very upset when you hear your loved one talk about ending their life. It’s important you understand this conversation has nothing to do with you.
Though, it can drive up some emotions for you that are very hard to deal with. People deal with emergency situations in many different ways – sadness, anger, avoidance, control.
Do your best to put your feelings aside in the moment. If you immediately start getting upset and say things like: “You can’t kill yourself. I can’t live without you”, or get angry and say things like: “That’s so selfish of you. Pull yourself together”, it will do nothing to help your loved one.
If you feel intense emotions, keep them to yourself at this point in time. There is a time to share. But it’s not now. So, if you are about to say something that has the word “I” in it, slow down and think about your words before you speak.
Make them feel accepted. If your loved one shares suicidal thoughts with you, they are being very vulnerable. A person considering suicide may be embarrassed, confused, think others might think they are crazy, and/or feel very alone.
Reassure them. Tell them that what they are feeling is not wrong or abnormal. Make them feel understood by sharing a personal tough time you had that you’ve overcome, if you can relate to the situation. If you can’t relate, it’s okay to say so, but ask them questions and then do more research on your own time to learn about how they feel so you can help them.
Here are some things you could say:
Relate to them: “Wow, I didn’t know you’ve been feeling so terrible. I never told you this, but when I was young I went through something similar…”
Understand what they are going through without judgement: “I can’t imagine what you’re dealing with right now, but I want to help you in any way I can. What do you need from me?…”
Empower them by sharing about the strength you know they have: “I know you might feel alone right now but many people consider suicide at difficult times in life. It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. I know who you are. You are more powerful than what you are feeling right now…”
Just listening is a powerful tool. It will make them feel heard. It will allow them to get the thoughts circling through their head out.
Probe gently to find out how serious they are about suicide. It’s important you gain an understanding of how bad the situation is right now. This will help you and other mental health professionals understand the severity of your loved ones mental state. Probe gently by asking questions such as:
“How long have you been feeling this way?”
“What’s making your feel this way?”
“Have you considered how you would actually take your life?”
“Is there anything you’ve been doing to try and make yourself feel better?”
It will help you assess how close to actually committing suicide you think they are. If they’ve been investigating ways to do it, get help immediately. If they’ve been thinking about it seriously for more than two weeks, get help immediately.
You also might want to do a little investigating. You may want to check the search history on their personal computer. Or talk to other close family members and friends about what they think or know.
But, make sure they do not find out. They trust you and you don’t want to do anything to break that trust, however, the more you understand, the more you can help. You may have to go behind their back, but it’s only for good. Suicidal people can be very secretive.
Ask them, straight out, how you can support them. Make sure you ask them what they need. They may or may not give you some suggestions. Be sure to include this in your conversation. You could say:
“What do you need from me right now?”
“How can I help you?”
“Can I set up an appointment with you and Dr. S?”
Get into immediate action. Put the rest of your life on hold and deal with this immediately. A person considering suicide takes priority over everything else. Don’t learn this the hard way by thinking you’ve got time and realizing it’s too late after they’re gone. This happens all to often.
They need to see a professional immediately. The best thing for them is to call 911 or have them committed to a mental health facility. Though, this may be difficult for you, it’s what they need to get better.
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