In the first part of the article, we discussed common myths associated with suicidal thinking. In this article, we look to delve deeper into understanding suicidal thoughts and how you can support a person having suicidal thoughts.
According to Dr. Thomas Joiner, author of the book “Why people die by suicide”, people are motivated to die when two psychological experiences come together. One is “Perceived Burdensomeness”, the perception of being a burden to others. Here people feel that their death would be of more use to others than their life. The word “perception” is key here because the perception of the individual may be distorted by poor mental health or other life experiences.
The second is what he refers to as “Thwarted Belongingness” – the feeling of disconnection from something bigger than themselves. We humans are hardwired to be in relationships and when we lose one or more of the critical relationships in our life, whether it be with a child, partner, parent or colleague or lose a job or get separated, we experience a deep sense of distress that can make death seem desirable.
Thus, suicidal thinking is almost a problem-solving behavior, from the perspective of the person considering it (as uncomfortable as that sounds). Looking at suicide this way does not mean that we endorse suicide, instead it makes it possible for us to empathize with what may be going on with a person considering suicide. They are trying to stop the psychological pain.
Providing Support to a Person Having Suicidal Thoughts
Here are some ways in which we can provide support to people dealing with suicidal ideation:
- Stop using the term “Committing” with suicide because suicide is a public health crisis and not a criminal act.
- Let the person know that you care for them and want them safe.
- If you suspect that they may be suicidal, ask them directly, to establish if they have had suicidal thoughts.
- Listen to them non-judgmentally, allowing them to express themselves fully and acknowledge the feelings they may be experiencing, even if you don’t agree with their reasoning.
- Resist the temptation to prove them wrong.
- Avoid advising them to look at the brighter side of things or advising them to stop being pessimistic. This will only add to their feelings of isolation and distress.
- Assure them that they are not alone.
- Provide them support by helping in setting appointments with a professional or spending time with them or doing things with them that may help them feel better.
- Identify the strengths of the person and factors that contribute to their well-being and resilience, like certain daily practices or relationships, that can be drawn on, to give them hope.
- Help them to focus on things that help them feel a sense of control.
- Remove any objects that they could use to harm themselves.
Suicide is a highly complex problem with multiple factors leading to it. Interventions for preventing suicide are not always simple. But it is important to remember that suicide is nearly always preventable and each one of us can play a role. Understanding suicidal thoughts and providing the right support can help us prevent the suicide of a family member, friend, colleague, classmate or neighbor. All it requires is for us to be alert and empathetic.
Know someone who should read this? Share it with them and keep your loved ones close!