What to do if someone is suicidal...
What to do if someone is suicidal...
If you believe someone you know may be suicidal, it can be difficult to know what to do or how to help. It is important to take the warning signs seriously and to approach the situation with care and compassion. While it may be a challenging conversation to have, talking openly and honestly about suicide can be a crucial step in preventing it. There are several things you can do to support someone who may be suicidal, and by taking action, you may help save a life. On this page, we will provide you with valuable information on PIA, an initiative by SOS Silence of Suicide. PIA aims to spread awareness of poor mental health, the obvious, and not so obvious ways of intervention and what it looks like, and how we can all work to help reduce suicide statistics amongst all groups of people. The 3 steps of P.I.A can be practised individually, but essentially they all combine into one initiative
Consciously, or unconsciously, we perhaps practise prevention more than we realise. For example, having more patience generally – whether you’re out shopping, driving, at work, at home. Or extending kindness – a smile, a listening ear, putting someone else first – all these things may seem simple but could make the biggest difference to the day, and life, of someone who is struggling invisibly.
If you encounter someone walking slowly and blocking your progress, or taking their time at the checkout, think why this could be. They may be slow for a reason. Try and put yourself in their shoes.
If you are worried about someone you know, you might spot some changes to their behaviour. These changes could appear as extreme mood swings, eating or sleeping, using drugs and alcohol more often, taking dangerous risks, withdrawing from friends and family, perhaps even saying goodbye to people, giving away their belongings, making a will or even researching ways to die by suicide. It is important to talk openly to someone you are worried about, and they might mention feelings such as unbearable emotional or physical pain, expressing extreme sadness, anxiety or anger, feelings of being empty, emotionless, trapped or having no reason to continue to live. They might mention being a burden to others or feeling guilt and shame.
Asking someone if they are suicidal, will not make someone think about suicide if they were not already doing so before you asked. Asking someone directly, ‘Are you feeling suicidal?’, could be exactly what someone needs to open up about their thoughts. Being suicidal is an isolating, scary experience. It is important to remember that being suicidal looks different in every person, they might be showing all these warning signs, some of them, or none of them. What matters is your concern for how they are coping. If you have concern, always ask directly, and open up the conversation when it feels safe to do so.
If you are feeling unable to have this conversation with the person, you can reach out to SOS Silence of Suicide for support talking to your loved one, or you could speak to another suicide prevention charity. In some cases, your local GP or mental wellbeing services can support you in having these conversations. If you think another family member or friend would be better at having these conversations, you can ask for support. It is sometimes better to share these concerns with mutual friends and family so you’re not alone in trying to support this person. The hardest part can be starting the conversation.
Helping prevent someone else’s emotional health from dipping can be the difference between them coping or not.
Giving is rewarding. Try keeping a diary of how you may have prevented someone from feeling worse each day – you might be surprised at how many people you have made a difference to.
It is also helpful to keep a record of what someone says to you, and when they say it, and when someone displays a concerning behaviour, and when they display it. This should always be shared with a healthcare professional. However, it is also helpful to keep a record of positives, the breakthroughs your loved one has, the challenging conversations you get through together and the small steps that are made towards recovery. Reflecting on this growth is helpful when both of you might be struggling to see a path through what an incredibly intense and painful time can be. Relapse is a part of recovery; these ups and downs are to be expected and should not deter you from continuing along a positive path forward, together.
Acts of prevention are never ending, so if you feel you could do more, try practising an act of kindness, consideration or tolerance every day, not just with people you know, but strangers too.
Never compromise your own safety or that of others.
If you see someone alone, crying, or looking/acting distressed, point them out to someone in authority or a member of staff qualified to help. If there is no-one around, and you believe the person is at serious risk, call 999. Do not be afraid of talking softly to the person. Never compromise your own safety or that of others.
If you have spotted someone who might need support, you could approach them with open body language, in a calm demeanour. Introduce yourself and start the small talk! Ask directly, if they are okay and if they would like you to get them some support. There is power in just talking about unrelated, everyday things. Everyday chitchat could mean the world to the person. Ask them questions to keep them engaged, and these questions don’t need to have anything to do with how they’re feeling. Ask open questions to encourage conversation. Listen to what someone says and use active listening. Signpost to the resources that could help, like SOS Silence of Suicide.
In all interactions, especially those about mental wellbeing or suicide, you can use Active Listening. This means listening intently and showing the person that you are listening to them. We often think about what we are going to say to someone while they are talking or consider our opinions on what they are saying. Here, we are going to try and focus solely on just listening without feeling the need to add anything additional to the interaction aside from our focus on their words and feelings. We are going to paraphrase what the person is saying back to them, highlighting the points that stand out, especially the emotions they state. We are not going to interrupt, instead give space for the person to finish. We will listen to the unsaid too, seeing how someone reacts in their body language. We will use silence when it comes up, not feeling the need to fill spaces in the conversation. This time allows the person to reflect on what they’ve said, and what they want to say next.
There are lots of helpful courses, videos, and articles online about Active Listening, so if you want to learn more, why don’t you search Active Listening into YouTube or Google to learn some more about ways to implement this into your everyday conversations.
There are lots of courses available in suicide prevention, which cover intervention and awareness. Many of us are afraid of learning about suicide, talking about it and what we would do if confronted with this situation. Therefore, taking awareness courses are both educational and preparational. Hopefully, you will never need to rely on what you learn, but if you do, these skills will greatly assist you. Try ASIST or SAFETALK if you are interested, as there are courses throughout the UK. Do your own searches on google and look for accredited, peer reviewed courses that could help you gain the knowledge and confidence to cope.
Zero Suicide Alliance runs a short and free online suicide awareness course.
When someone expresses suicidal thoughts, or is experiencing a suicide crisis, that is a scary and overwhelming experience for not only the person experiencing the crisis, but also the loved ones trying to help. With access to the right help and support, alongside supportive friends and family, people can recover.
Experiencing suicidal thoughts is not, and should not, be a death sentence. In the USA, in 2021, 12.3 million people seriously thought about dying by suicide according to the CDC. That number is staggering and invokes feelings of shock and worry for loved ones. Taken into context, 99.6% of these 12.3 million people survived their suicidal thoughts. There is hope and with the right support, people do recover. SOS Silence of Suicide will continue to fight to prevent even more suicides each year.
Again, you are probably more aware than you realise, but in today’s hectic society, we sometimes miss seeing things. If we’re busy or running late, we may pass by someone who’s obviously in distress, or disorientated.
By slowing down the pace of life, we are removing stress from ourselves as well as having the luxury of time to take in things that are unfolding in front of us, to observe people and better-read possible situations. That allows us the opportunity of being more aware when someone is presenting in a vulnerable manner.
The ASIST and SAFETALK training courses mentioned in intervention may be something you wish to consider taking. They will help your awareness and observation skills. People who are feeling suicidal can and do recover. What matters is asking directly if you suspect someone is struggling. Your presence, response and listening to someone. Act, reach out for the professional help your loved one deserves. Continue the conversation, check in with the person and do not give up on holding these conversations with them, involving them in everyday life, despite the ups and downs they will go through.
If you need further help and support, reach out to SOS Silence of Suicide. Remember, your local health and social care services are also there to support you, alongside the numerous suicide prevention charities across the UK. We are here you for you. You are not alone. There is hope.
Stop The Silence, Start the Conversation.
During 2022, besides still working hard to reduce shame, stigma and silence around mental health and suicide, SOS are encouraging everyone to help drive compassion in society.
So what exactly is compassion? How can we demonstrate it? How can it help others? How does it help us?
What is compassion?
The Cambridge Dictionary of compassion is showing sympathy and having a desire to help others during challenging times.
How Can We Demonstrate Compassion?
We can demonstrate compassion through acts and words of kindness, respect, love and understanding and also through the tone of our voice and body language.
Even if we are finding it difficult to talk, someone encouraging us with a reassuring voice, can help us to open up and feel safe with that person.
If we see that someone is upset, whether we know them or not, simply asking if they need help can make a huge difference to that person.
Where Covid allows, giving someone a hug to let them know you understand, can also make a difference to how someone else is feeling.
Being sensitive to the feelings and needs of others and taking time to really listen, are also ways of demonstrating compassion.
How Can It Help Others?
When people display compassion towards us, it makes us feel less isolated and alone. It can help encourage others to open up and talk about what’s bothering them, without feeling like a burden. Giving compassion to others also makes them feel valued and can improve how they perceive themselves. Knowing that someone is listening and caring, can turn a dark day into a brighter day and give people hope.
How Can It Help Us?
Think about all the times you’ve given something to someone else. It could be advice, a gift, a hug or something else. Think about how good this makes you feel when you see their reaction. Their smile, their happiness. Their relief. It’s a great feeling isn’t it, knowing your compassion has made such a difference to someone else. Showing compassion makes everyone feel better and that’s why SOS Silence of Suicide have retained this theme for the second year in a row.
‘SOS is about building individual and collective resilience, empowering everyone to recognise their own self worth. We aim to eradicate shame, stigma and silence that can inhibit necessary conversations around emotional illness and suicide’
‘Taking the time to ask someone how they are feeling could be the lifeline they have been needing’ (SOS Silence of Suicide)