Suicide can be a very heavy topic and more often than not, we might try to avoid conversations about suicide altogether. However, when faced with a suicidal friend, the conflict between staying to listen and distancing so you can stay out it runs wild in our heads. How exactly, should I help a suicidal friend? Here are some guidelines which might be useful.
You may be afraid or at a loss of what to do when a friend tells you that they want to die, or if you suspect that a friend feels this way. It is a serious matter and definitely needs to be treated with care. You may not know exactly how to react in these situations, but the last thing you would want to do is to lose your composure in front of your friend, who is already in an emotional turmoil. There must be reasons that made them consider suicide, and perhaps, they do not mind sharing these reasons with you. Listen to them, and hear what they are going through. Listen to them as they reveal to you their sources of stress. It could be about studies, friendships, relationships, family, personal issues, or other reasons. There may be more than one source of pressure. As you listen to them, you can find out what is the best way to help your friend. If you hear your friend fretting about studies, for instance, some direct solutions may just come to your mind: if your friend is bothered by peer pressure, perhaps finding a private or home tutor to help your friend would be beneficial. If you hear your friend fretting about friendships, perhaps being a steady pillar of support as a friend would be something that comes to your mind. It all starts with the listening – you may not be that helpless if you gain more information from your friend.
The best way to be supportive and empathetic is to be accepting. After you have heard your friend’s story, do not be judgemental, or even dismissive of your friend’s feelings. Sometimes, their reasons may seem not that significant to you, and you cannot relate to their troubled feelings. When that happens, we sometimes unconsciously make remarks that belittle their situation, which makes them feel not accepted (or worse, affirm their suicidal thoughts: “nobody understands me anyway, what is the point of existing?”) What matters is how much they are hurting over their problem, and not what the problem is objectively. You may not even mean to downscale their problems, but remember, your actions and words speak louder than your intentions. Be very sensitive to show that you accept them for who they are. While you may not agree with their reasons to attempt suicide, you want to show that you are there for them.
Maybe you have a friend who seems like he or she is contemplating suicide. Maybe you have a friend who has already told you so. In both situations, it is alright to ask your friend, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?”. Many studies, such as a 2014 literature review from the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the United States, found out that asking such questions and talking openly about suicide with your friend are unlikely to plant more suicide thoughts in their heads, and in fact, may actually decrease the thoughts. That being said, conversations need to be handled with care as well. Avoid sounding like you are provoking or belittling them. If you feel uncomfortable with specific terms in self-harm, you don’t have to use them. As Professor Elana Premack Sandler from the Simmons School of Social Work had said, “not talking about it reinforces that it’s not ok to talk about (it),”. You can be the first friend to help your suicidal friend feel safe about raising the topic, as compared to maintaining silence.
As you talk with your friend, you can share the emotional burden he or she is shouldering, and show that you are present there in his or her struggles. The longer you talk with them, the higher the chance to dilute their thoughts, and the less likely it is for them to act impulsively. You are not simply “dragging time”, but you are showing them that they are worth your time and you still do care about them. Try your best to show them, in the way that they can understand, that you are there for them.
Remember that you do not need to solve their problems. They may ask you (perhaps rhetorically) how their problems can be solved. But keep in mind that, if your friend is emotional, rational arguments may not be the best thing to say to persuade them. It does not mean that you have to be emotional as well. Just remember to be careful to not make any judgements, and focus on validating their feelings. Avoid claiming ownership of their problems. If you do not know how hard it is for your friend, you don’t have to say “I know how hard it is for you”. If you do not know what the best solution is, do not tell your friend “You shouldn’t feel like that”. You can simply say, “I won’t say I know how you feel, I don’t”. You can tell them, “You have been struggling so much to find reasons to live for, and now I am here for you”. They may just need some comfort more than a solution.
As much as you would like to help your friend, sometimes things may just get out of hand. You try your best to give support and encouragement, but sometimes they may not achieve their intended effect. If that is the case, be very vigilant when to seek professional help. You can call the Samaritans of Singapore at 1800-221-4444, which is available 24 hours everyday. If it is an online friendship, you can encourage them to call the hotline themselves in their local area, or you can be the one to call. If in specific situations, alerting your friend’s loved ones or any adult he or she is close to is more appropriate, you can do so as well. Most importantly, don’t forget to take care of yourself and seek assistance when you need to.
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Through this article, as a leading private tuition, FamilyTutor hopes that you get a general understanding on how you could help others who are having a hard time in their lives.
By the way, the ‘Simply Advice’ series conveniently gives you information that is useful any day any time. It aims to shed some light on pertinent topics and provide you with the best advice!
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