Managing Suicidal Thoughts and Behavior: How to Help Someone You Love Back from the Brink of Despair
Finding out that someone you love is contemplating suicide – or possibly has attempted suicide – is unfathomable for most people, yet it happens too often to people who never suspected that someone close to them was struggling so deeply. While this often leads to guilt, with friends and loved ones blaming themselves for not noticing something was wrong or intervening sooner, the important thing is to educate yourself now and take a more active role going forward to protect the person you care about, encouraging the process of managing suicidal thoughts and behavior.
Know the Warning Signs
What signs should you be looking for? While every individual is unique, there are some common signs that you should watch for that might indicate that your loved one is suffering from a relapse and is considering self-harm:
- Negative talk such as feeling worthless, having no reason to live and similar statements
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Reckless behavior
- Social isolation
- Drastic mood swings including irritability, rage, humiliation or anxiety
Any sign that strikes you as out of the ordinary should be considered a potential warning and an indication that you should take some action to ensure that your loved one isn’t having thoughts of self-harm or sinking deeper into depression.
Understand Outside Influences
Certain demographic factors do play a role in the overall risk profile for suicide attempts and ideation as well as addiction, a form of self-medication that can lead to reckless or dangerous behavior. For example, the incidence of illegal drug use is greater among the African-American community (12.4%) than the general population (10.2%). Illicit drug use and alcohol abuse may also be impacted by factors such as societal status, poverty and other demographics.
There’s a societal stigma associated with mental illness which can lead some individuals to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs rather than seek treatment for a mental illness. Understanding the roles these factors play can help you be more mindful of societal influences and take action sooner to get your friend the help they need.
Take Appropriate Action
If you fear for your loved one’s safety, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. If you’re sure that your friend or loved one has no intentions of attempting self-harm immediately, there may be time to talk things through and arrange for treatment. There are several action steps you can take to help:
- Start a conversation with care and understanding, but no judgement
- Don’t handle the situation alone
- Stay with your friend until you are sure there is no immediate crisis and/or they are receiving professional help (in an inpatient setting or through a trusted healthcare practitioner)
- Remove firearms, medications and other items that could be used for self-harm
- Offer hope that treatments and alternatives are available and that it’s possible to regain control over their life
- If the person receives help, don’t drop it – follow up often to make sure they’re coping well
It may be hard to know what to do when confronted by the knowledge that a friend or loved one has contemplated suicide. However, many of the recommended actions are things that can be easily done. Understanding the warning signs and paying careful attention to behaviors can provide clues that someone is considering self-harm. Following these tips and strategies will help you ensure your loved one’s safety while being supportive and caring.
Guest Blogger: Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson has always been dedicated to promoting health and wellness in all aspects of life. Studying in the medical field has shown him how important it is for reputable health-related facts, figures, tips and other guidance to be readily available to the public. He created PublicHealthLibrary.org with a fellow student to act as a resource for people’s overall health inquiries and as an accurate and extensive source of health information. When he isn’t hard at work in his studies, Steve enjoys playing tennis and listening to his vintage record collection.
*Note from Kathryn: When Steve approached me to write a piece on suicide prevention for Fashionably Frank, I was touched and happy to provide him with the platform. Having lost a good friend and colleague, an uncle and almost many additional friends to suicide, this is an issue that I am passionate about raising awareness for. Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about the journey I had coming to terms with why suicidal people feel the way they do--written right after comedian and actor Robin Williams passed, published just moments before my good friend and colleague took his own life. In a later guest post, a friend of mine shared her own personal accounts of having lost an ex-boyfriend to suicide at a young age.
Thank you for reading. Your time may save a life.