When a family member or loved one is experiencing thoughts of suicidal thoughts or attempts suicide, it is a traumatic event that can impact the entire family.
In these situations, it is normal to feel scared, overwhelmed, or even anger. It can be easy to doubt ourselves and question whether we’re asking the right questions – or are we making things worse? If you’re finding it difficult to determine whether your family member is at risk of suicide, it’s important that you acknowledge the situation, and don’t wait.
Families and friends play a key role in suicide prevention. In this blog, we have put together some tips that will help you understand how you can support a loved one who is in emotional distress and struggling with thoughts of suicide.
Be aware of suicidal invitations.
Suicidal invitations can vary from person to person, but there are common signs that indicate someone may be having suicidal thoughts. These signs include showing a lack of interest in things, withdrawing from friends and family, substance abuse and/or reckless behaviour, and changes in behaviour and mood – this can include an unusual sense of happiness and positivity, or displaying negative behaviours and thoughts.
Someone with suicidal thoughts who intends to act on their feelings might also use certain phrases which indicate a lack of wanting to be alive. This might include “I don’t want to be here anymore”, “I’m so tired of feeling like this”, or even “that won’t affect me when I’m gone”. If you notice any of these warning signs, it is important to take them seriously and reach out to your loved one. You can read more about suicidal invitations in our blog: https://www.papyrus-uk.org/suicidal-invitations/
Use the ‘s’ word.
There is a common misconception that talking about suicide to someone you’re concerned about might cause or increase suicidal thoughts. It’s so important that you understand asking about suicide will not cause a person to act on suicidal thoughts. In fact, asking about suicide can help a person struggling to feel less isolated and scared; it can make them feel more understood.
If you’re concerned that a loved one might be suicidal, ask them. Put it to them in a clear and direct way, that indicates there is no judgement. Acknowledge the signs they have shown which has led you to think this and let them know you are there to support them through these feelings and help keep them safe.
Using the word, ‘suicide’, on this occasion is incredibly important. Be careful not to ask vague questions such as, “you’re not thinking of hurting yourself, are you?”, or “are you thinking of doing something stupid?” These questions don’t refer specifically to suicide. To get a direct answer, you need to ask a direct question: “Are you thinking about suicide?”
Show your support.
One of the most important things a family member can do to help someone who is suicidal is to show support and avoid judgement to their loved one’s situation. It is so easy as a loved one to want to make someone feel better, see their worth and understand how loved and valued they are, but often this can be counterproductive.
By bombarding our loved one with phrases such as “but everyone loves you”, “you’re doing so well, you have everything going for you”, “you’ve got amazing kids, what about them?”, this can add to the guilt the person may already carry and make them feel unheard and misunderstood. Instead, take the time to understand why your loved one feels the way they do, acknowledge what they’re saying and offer words of encouragement that allow them to know they’re heard, and you want to work together with them at their pace. It’s important to let them know that you care and that they are not alone.
Encourage professional help.
If you suspect that your loved one is suicidal, encourage them to seek professional help. This can be done by suggesting they see a doctor, counsellor, or therapist. Encouraging professional help can be a difficult conversation to have, but it’s important to have it to ensure the safety of your loved one. You could even sit with them and call a suicide prevention helpline, such as HOPELINE247 – we often hear from both parents and the young person they’re concerned about on the same call.
It’s important for family members to educate themselves on suicide prevention and what they can do to help. This can be done by reading books and reputable sources online, attending workshops, or seeking support from a support group. You may also want to consider enrolling onto a suicide prevention training course at PAPYRUS, which teaches attendees the vital skills needed to open up conversations around suicide effectively and safely, and how to perform a suicide intervention. The more knowledge and understanding you have, the better equipped you will be to help your loved one. You can find out more about our training courses, here: https://www.papyrus-uk.org/education-and-training-faqs/
Take care of yourself.
Caring for someone who is suicidal can be a lot to cope with emotionally, and it’s important to remember to take care of yourself as well. We always like to emphasise the importance of engaging in self-care activities, such as exercise, meditation, or personal hobbies that bring you happiness and relaxation. You may also find it beneficial to seek support from friends, family, or a support group.
Conversations about suicide can be difficult, and sometimes we might not have the emotional capability to do help others; that is completely fine. You cannot support someone else if your own cup is empty, so by taking care of yourself, it ensures that you can continue to provide valuable support without burning out.
If you have encountered a conversation about suicide which has been emotionally tough and you need to speak to someone about it, our HOEPLINEUK advisers are available for a debrief at any time to ensure you get the support you need.
Never give up hope.
No matter how difficult the situation may seem, it’s important to never give up hope. People who are suicidal can and do recover with the right support and treatment. By being there for your loved one and encouraging them to seek professional help, you can help them on their journey to recovery.
If you have a loved one who is suicidal, it’s important to acknowledge the invitations and act. By being aware of what suicidal invitations might look like and asking your loved one the question “are you having thoughts of suicide?”, you could help prevent suicide and ensure the safety and wellbeing of your loved one.