You can stop this
By: James Foley
You can stop this
You have arranged to meet your friend but they haven’t turned up. You phone and it goes to message. You go to their home around the corner. You knock but there is no reply. Having a key you open the door.
Your friend is sitting on her couch with an open bottle of tablets and a glass of water on the table in front of her. She looks up at you with a sad vacant look in her face.
Perhaps this will never happen to you Hopefully this will never happen to you. Chances are this happens to a thousand or more people every year in Ireland. Consider the amount of self harm and suicide attempts every year.
If you walked into another persons suicide attempt what would you do? How should you emotionally respond? What could you practically do?
Read on to learn how you could respond in such an emergency. It’s possible this may help you save a life someday.
“God help us, what are you doing?”
You may walk into the situation where the person is actively suicidal. You may suddenly realise that you believe your loved one is likely to take their own life.
The first response in such a situation will be one of shock. That is to be expected. It is what you do next that matters.
The moments where you realise that someone is actively suicidal are crucial. Your inital responses to the person will likely establish how the rest of your interaction with them will follow. Being in shock is to be expected, but you need to snap out of it.
Here are some pointers for how to respond when in this shock:
- Don’t just stand there, do something.
- Remember it is about them, not you.
- There is very little you can do to make this situation worse.
- There is a lot you can do to make things better.
- Your loved one needs you to know you care, more than you need to be careful.
There are no guarantees when it comes to helping suicidal people. If it goes badly, it is not your fault. It could never be your fault. This will be the topic of another blog.
Where the person is not actively trying to kill themselves you simply talk with them in the ways I indicate later.
Where the person is in the act of suicide deal with the physical threat first. Use whatever persuasive language you have to. Intervene directly if needed.
The person may be angry with you for preventing them from killing themselves. Chances are this will be short lived and they will be grateful at a later point. You may have acted wrongly as the person was not suicidal at all.
Regardless, dealing with their anger or your embarrassment is a lot better than going to their funeral.
To be sure, to be sure
The person whom you fear to be suicidal may not be in the act of taking their own life. If that is so how can you be sure your gut instinct is right? What warning signs are you looking for to tell you this person needs help and quickly?
It is important to remember you may notice these signs over a period of time and not just in the moment. This is the case especially when it may be obvious to you the person is likely to act on a negative impulse soon.
This short video goes through some of the warning signs you could look for to determine if someone is suicidal.
In summary there are three categories to look for: How the person talks. How the person behaves. How the person is emotionally. If the person is ticking your boxes with these lists, chances are they are suicidal. At the very least they are at risk of a very low mood that could lead to suicide.
Do not be afraid to over react. At worst you may offend them or embarrass yourself.
Three big questions
Once you have validated your suspicions you should ask the person straight out, “Are you suicidal?” It is likely the person will find it a relief to say yes. Research has shown you can not make someone think about suicide by asking them are they suicidal. If it does they are already suicidal. So don’t be afraid to ask the big questions.
It is obvious they can answer, yes or no. Regardless of how they answer you still have to trust your own assessment of the warning signs said earlier. If they say no they could be lying.
If they say they are suicidal the next big question is, “Do you have a plan for how to do it?” Again assess the validity of their answer going with your own hunch first and foremost.
You may need to respond to this by moving them from their present location or removing specific items from their possession.
The last big question is, “Will you come with me to get you help?” Chances are if they have co-operated with you up to this point they are already saying they want help.
Your main role here is to bring them to a place of safety primarily a hospital emergency department with an attending psychiatrist if possible.
Through out this process keep the person engaged. Talk about anything, including how they are feeling. Tell them you understand why they feel this way. Communicate acceptance to them.
Be reassuring. Tell them many people have felt as they have and come through it. They need to hear that truth. If they never hear it they will never believe it.
Finally in helping the strongly suicidal person do not leave them on your own until you have handed their care over to someone else. If you can not hand over their care to a relevant professional then choose a person who is competent, knows the person reasonably well and has a good amount of time available.
Share with them all relevant information. This is not just to maintain the safety of the suicidal person. The person’s carer will have to give a full hand over to the hospital team when when they get to the emergency department.
What if they don’t want help?
They may say, “No I am not suicidal” They may state they are suicidal but say they have no plan. They may refuse help regardless of your offers to get it. Still your instinct from the your mental checklist of warning signs tells you they are at risk of suicide.
What can you do in such a situation?
You stay with them as much as you can, You accept what they are saying while communicating your concern. Calmly express your concern. Ask them, “If you were to take your own life how would you do it?” If they answer this in a telling manner try to make their location as safe as possible.
Change what they are doing by arranging to do something together. Go see a film, or go for a meal. Try and involve others in the activity so that you can share the burden of concern.
Try and stay with the person for as long as possible. Invite them to stay with you if that is possible.
It is likely they may refuse all your offers of support and even be happy in themselves. In such a situation remember it is all about time. The more time you spend with them gives you more varied opportunities to prod them as to what is really going on. More time also gives them more opportunity to respond to what you are saying.
As is said, “There is a time for everything under heaven”. In this case there is a time to be direct and a time to be discreet. You will be the one in the situation. You will know what is best to say and do.
Regardless no matter how much you have tried you may not succeed. Your loved one may still take their own life. I will go into more detail on this in another blog.
For now I will say, it is never your fault if someone takes their own life. They choose to believe what they believed. They choose how to respond to that belief. It could never be your fault.
If any of this content has caused you to be concerned for yourself or others please do get help from a trusted friend or professional. This website may give you direct support if you are in current difficulties. https://www2.hse.ie/mental-health/