What Can I Do?
I often hear this question. I hear it from panicked parents, desperate friends, and clergy.
This is what you need to accept. In order for a person to take their own life, they have to believe all hope for change is gone, they believe they are a burden to family and friends, and then those two beliefs override the fear of taking one’s own life. In other words, they have lost their fear of death. With this basic understanding, you can take simple but powerful, effective steps to reach them in a meaningful way.
Suicide is preventable.
Do not shame them into staying or create a fear of eternal punishment to try and stop them. They already feel worthless. Remember, their path didn’t start with a suicide attempt. Their pain is rooted elsewhere. There are many reasons a person is struggling with suicidal thoughts. It could be the result of a concussion or multiple concussions. It can be a chemical imbalance or a series of tragic events. Whatever it is, it’s diminished their ability to identify and question their painful thoughts. They believe their painful thoughts. Your job is to unconditionally love them. Be a friend. Provide a safe place to talk or cry or simply sit with them in silence. Ultimately, facilitate getting them help from a professional.
I’ve outlined basic steps to follow to keep a person safe. This takes courage, straightforward questions spoken with love, and time. These steps can save a life. I recommend taking a QPR class to learn more. If you can’t find a class, sponsor one by contacting us.
First, let’s go over what you shouldn’t say to a person who is depressed and or suicidal.
- What are you thinking?
- Can’t you see all of your blessings?
- Are you doing this for attention?
- You don’t have any reason to be depressed.
- Get over yourself.
- Life isn’t that hard. Want to hear hard?
- Don’t be so upset. He’s just a boy or she’s just a girl. More will come along.
- Aren’t you getting A’s? Why not? No wonder you’re sad.
- No one would want to hang out with you if you’re sad like this!
- Eat better and exercise, that’s all it takes to feel better.
- You have NOTHING to worry about! Wait until you’re grown up!
- You’re so amazing! I don’t understand why you’re depressed.
- How can you be so smart and so stupid at the same time?
- I raised you better than this.
There are so many demeaning statements that scared adults and friends might say to try and control the situation. Their pain may seem stupid to someone else but it’s very real to them. The only way they will ever be okay is if they find a safe way to question the thoughts they are having that drive them to believe there is no hope for happiness. Our attachment to ideas that are not true creates our pain. Sometimes, there is a chemical imbalance that is causing mental illness. You may not be the right person to help them deal with their painful beliefs but you can be a safe place for them to come at any time. The truth is your child (friend, loved one) doesn’t want to disappoint you and will lie to avoid it. The best option may be to refer them to professional help. Here are a few suggestions:
- SafeUt – app that provides free texting with Utah’s suicide hotline with licensed therapists. 100% confidential.
- Check with your clergy for possible financial help with a counselor.
- Clergy may provide help.
- School counselor
- Last resort, your local hospital behavioral unit.
When you are concerned but are not sure how serious it may be, here are basic questions to help determine the severity of the situation and then suggestions on what actions to take.
With gentleness and concern, directly ask if the person, “Have you been feeling depressed.”
If yes, then ask them, ” Are you having suicidal thoughts.”
Let’s take a break here. Many people think if they mention suicide, it puts the idea in their heads. This is false. Let’s continue.
Next, in a very matter of fact, gentle voice, ask them if they have a plan on how they would carry suicide out. “Do you have a plan?“
If they say they don’t have a plan but yes to having suicidal thoughts, DO NOT OVERREACT! Just listen. Don’t try and solve their problems. Listen to what they might want to do to solve their problems. Tell them you will be looking into solutions. Ask them to agree to not act on these suicidal thoughts. Make sure they have the SafeUt app on their phone and know how to use it. Experiment together. Ask them to write down what they can do when their thoughts start to scare them. Make sure they list people they promise to call.
If you’re the parent, start making plans to get your family into therapy. It’s always a family issue. To send a child off to therapy alone sends the message that they are the problem. That may cause more self-doubt and isolation. Individual therapy may also be necessary. There are recommended mental health care professionals available on this website.
If you’re considering medicating your child, please get a diagnosis by a qualified child psychologist or psychiatrist. There are accurate diagnostic tools. Good evaluations take time. Anecdotal answers by friends, family, or even family physicians should not be sufficient proof to justify altering a child’s brain chemistry with medication. Your child’s brain is not a test lab. Know the facts. Medication is an option along with many other options that have worked successfully for others. This site is filled with many resources. If medication is the best option, a person should never be ashamed of using this tool. Consider it like insulin for diabetics. We’d never shame them for using taking their medication. Instead, we would be upset if they didn’t take it. It keeps them alive.
If they say yes to having a plan, then ask how they want to do it. “How were you planning to complete suicide?”
This is where most people get really scared. They don’t ask because they don’t want to know. This is also where it’s tempting to start lecturing with those negative statements mentioned above. Don’t. Just listen.
If they say yes, they are in crises mode and you’ll need to make critical decisions. First, calmly secure any object they mentioned they wanted to use to complete suicide. Second, you’re going to find professional help immediately by taking them to the hospital if possible. Most of all, absolutely do not leave them alone.
Tell them, “We need to call someone to help. Should we call your parents? If they are adults it might be family/friends/clergy/couselor? Who would you like to call?”
As a friend or equal, you must include another responsible adult at this point. If they have a hard time thinking of who they can call, make suggestions which might include parents, school counselors, clergy or anyone they suggest as long as it’s a responsible adult. If they reject all your suggestions, then explain you love them and that you have to call someone and then make your choice. THEN DON’T LEAVE THEM ALONE. Police are the last resort. This is a good time to download the SafeUt app from your app store and initiate a session with them.
So many kids don’t want their friends to be mad at them so they don’t tell anyone. Stop and consider how you will feel if they do die by suicide and you didn’t tell someone. I promise, you will be glad you called someone and they will get over it eventually. They may even thank you someday.
As a parent or guardian, this is when you take them to the hospital emergency room. It’s a scary step. Resistant thoughts such as, ‘I don’t want my family to know I’m a bad parent’, ‘This will cost too much’, ‘I’m scared’, and so many others are not reasons to avoid the hospital. The hospital will keep them safe. It’s a beginning step. They won’t walk away cured. They will walk away alive. Then, it’s time to get help as was discussed above.
What happens at the hospital? Basically, they will be admitted, asked basic questions, and decide if your child needs to stay or if they can be safely sent home with a safety plan in place. If they stay, they will be admitted and blood and urine tests may be performed. They will be further evaluated. Your child will likely be put on some sort of medication. They probably will stay for 3-5 days or longer depending on the results of their evaluation. You go home devastated and slightly relieved that your child will be safe for at least one night.
Now it’s time to get ready for when they come home and the real work begins. Plan to get your family into therapy right away. If you can, call your extended family and create a support group for your child. All of you may be embarrassed but isolation will drive your loved one to suicide faster than embarrassment. Most of all, when they come home commend them for their bravery to admit their most frightening thoughts. It saved their life. Do not blame them or accuse them of just wanting attention. I’ve even seen parents force their teenage children to pay for the hospital costs. Please do not be so cruel. Reward, don’t shame.
It’s important to understand their suicide threat is the last option in a long line of painful thoughts. Find where it began and focus on healing those moments.
Again, please search out the many options that can help a child learn to change their painful thoughts. There is information on mindfulness meditation, highly effective supplements, and gentle alternative therapies as well as other modalities that have worked to save lives. Take it even further. It’s not enough to simply save a life. Every child deserves joy and peace. Above all else, be your child’s resident expert. Love them.
Regardless if a person has attempted or is contemplating suicide, the steps are the same. Providing a safe, nonjudgmental space is the best course of action. Undoubtedly, you’ll have your own ‘stuff’ to work through because of your fears and beliefs around suicide and expectations. Take care of yourself. Get your own help. This will only help those you love. Blaming someone for your pain, especially someone who is suicidal, is counterproductive. Find help for yourself too. Talk to a friend or a professional. Be an example to them that it’s okay to get help.
The statements made on this page are not meant as a means of diagnosis. Please seek a trained professional.