5 Tips For Helping Someone With Suicidal Thoughts
It can be difficult to know what to do when someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts, as everyone thinks and expresses their thoughts differently, and can be suicidal for different reasons. According to the World Health Organisation, over 800,000 people die by suicide each year. Therefore, providing support is important, as it can sometimes be the difference between life and death.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, statistics recorded by the Mental Health Foundation report that ‘higher proportions of young people aged 18-24 (30%), adults aged 25-34 (28%), and single parents (30%) report being hopeless in the previous two weeks than the overall adult population (18%)’. Although hopelessness does not necessarily lead to suicide, it is a feeling which can develop into suicidal thoughts and can be worsened with the combination of other factors such as loneliness, illness and stress.
If you know someone who could be at risk, whether they have presented this behaviour in the past or because you have noticed that they are acting differently, here are five tips for helping someone with suicidal thoughts.
1. Know the signs
To help those who are in need, it’s important to first understand the signs that a person is experiencing suicidal thoughts:
- Talking about or focusing on death or dying
- Talking about not having a reason to live
- Making plans for their own death, such as organising a will, giving away possessions or making funeral arrangements
- Gathering materials for facilitating suicide, such as a rope, gun or drugs/medication
- Looking up methods for suicide online
- Isolating from other people, including those who they were once close with
- No longer taking part in activities
- Having severe mood swings
- Saying goodbye to friends and family or posting ‘goodbye’ messages on social media
If someone you know is expressing any of the above signs, the first thing you need to do is to calmly assess the situation before you act. If your friend is in immediate danger, or if they’re endangering anyone else, call the police. If they’re hurt, take them to the hospital if they are cooperative. In an extreme situation such as this, they may initially be angry or upset with you for taking action, but it’s more important that they are safe.
Those who aren’t in immediate danger may require a more careful approach, but remember that anyone’s state of mind can change instantly, so you should have an emergency backup plan in mind just in case. You may find the following 4 ways helpful:
2. Remove objects that could be used to self-harm
According to a study of 2800 college students, the most common methods of self-harm included scratching or pinching oneself, impact with objects, and cutting using a sharp tool such as a knife or scissors. While it’s not possible to ensure that a person does not harm themselves using their own body, it may help to remove objects that could be used for self-harm from their access, with their permission
3. Make sure that you are the right person to help
As the proverb goes, ‘you cannot pour from an empty cup’, which in relation to this context means that you need to be emotionally and mentally equipped in order to be able to help someone who is experiencing mental health problems themselves.
To provide the help that your friend needs, you should ensure that you are the right person to help. This may mean making sure that you are strong enough to take on their issues, as well as having the knowledge to help them in the right way.
If you don’t feel that you are the right person to help, the best thing to do is ask someone else for help, whether they’re another friend or family member, a mental health professional, or an organisation.
4. Build a support network
It is not fair nor wise to care for someone with mental health issues on your own. This is because it could negatively impact your own mental health. Instead, form a support network for yourself and your friend. This must be a group of trusted people who are responsible and prepared to deal with someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, and who have a plan in place if suicide becomes an imminent possibility.
Your support network should check in with your friend regularly and update each other to ensure that everyone is aware of the situation as it progresses.
5. Create coping strategies
A coping strategy is a technique that can be used to help when negative thoughts are experienced. Different coping strategies work for different people, so it may require taking some time to find what is right for your friend.
Some common coping strategies include:
- Talking to someone trustworthy – talking is an important part of coping with depression and other mental health issues. Perhaps you could be the person for your friend to talk to, or you could put them in touch with someone else who is trustworthy and able to help.
- Referring to an affirmation collection – when your friend is feeling very low, they may need reminding of things in their life that they can be positive about. If you’re not around to tell them, you could create an ‘affirmation collection’ for them to refer to. This is a collection of objects designed to lift their mood, and could include photos of their happiest moments, lyrics of a song that they love, an excerpt from their favourite book, and more.
- Breathing exercises – Mindful breathing has been shown to reduce negative thinking, which could help when someone is panicking. Talking your friend through techniques such as 4-7-8 breathing (which involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds), could be used to help them feel more in control of their emotions in times of need.
Simply ‘being there’ for your friend can help them greatly, but if you feel that they need more support, there are treatments and therapies available to help them get better. You can read more about depression and the treatments available, including groundbreaking Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS), here.
As a private psychiatry centre, we can provide immediate high-quality care for patients over telephone or video consultation. Face-to-face appointments are also available. If you, or someone you know, needs support please don’t hesitate to call us and arrange for a consultation.