How to support someone with suicidal thoughts - as a therapist or as a friend?
I didn’t want to end my life. I just wanted to end the pain in my life.
- A suicide attempt survivor
If there is one statement to understand suicidal thoughts and behaviour, this is it. It is an attempt to end the pain, the life as one knows it. We attempt to highlight the work of some of the leading organisations in suicide prevention in this edition.
We often think of suicide as a process where an individual’s self-regulatory resources to face life’s stressors are overwhelmed. In their troubled mind, the problems they face seem huge. Their own resources and social support seem extremely inadequate. Suicide then becomes the solution or an escape from the pain. Other theories suggest lack of belonging and feeling as a burden for others as accelerating this process.
Sometimes there are practical problems too (financial or loss of job during Covid, marital issues) but the predominant driver is one of loneliness and helplessness. Often, childhood trauma survivors (especially those with co-occurring depression or substance abuse issues), depression sufferers and war veterans are vulnerable.
Matt Haig, who survived severe suicidal thoughts and is now a famous campaigner for mental health, explains this very well in his book “Reasons to Stay Alive”. Please see our podcast review on the book below.
Podcast Book Review - Reasons to Stay Alive
What can we learn from those who went to the brink and survived it? Survivors of suicide attempts repeatedly say that this was not an “emotional blackmail” or “attention seeking” behavior. Because the attempt may happen amidst some interpersonal struggle, it is possible for close friends and family to feel this way. The resultant perceived shame and stigma drives the person further into isolation, risking a repeat of such thoughts.
When we root our response in compassion (“Probably they are in real trouble, else they would not talk like this or think this way”), we can approach them in a non-judgmental, supportive way. Please check the useful links below and our wefor some suggestions on what to do and what not to do in such situations.
Family and social connections and support, practical guidance and self-care are effective in lowering risk of suicide. Please see the risk and protective involved in a suicide attempt (source: SPRC).
Risk and Protective Factors
If a loved one or your client has recently gone through a divorce, loss of a partner, financial hardship, then the risk is higher. It will be helpful to stay connected with them at such a time.
SPEAK is a suicide loss support website by Dr. Nandini Murali (author of an excellent book memoir on “Left Behind: Surviving Suicide Loss”), it has some commonly facts and fictions to understand the basic misconceptions of suicide.
As a therapist, family doctor or a friend, you can sit down and develop a safety plan and a prevention plan with them. Emotion regulation and impulse control skills can be useful in allowing difficult times to pass. Self-empowerment and good coping skills take time but are crucial for long term prevention. You can also encourage them to join a spiritual group or stay connected with friends.
Eight ways to deal with suicidal thoughts
What made you stop the attempt? And go back to life? I found a therapist who just listened to me. Listened? That’s all? Yes, the realization that someone cared enough to listen, without judgement – that made all the difference.
- A suicide attempt survivor in conversation with Viktor Frankl
Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre Chennai - Helplines in Tamil Nadu