Get Well

How to Talk About Suicide According to a Therapist

by Raven Ishak

Suicide, unfortunately, is a word that has been on everyone’s mind as of late. It’s a word that normally no one likes to discuss and doesn’t dare to bring up. It can be hard for some people to understand why someone would even want to take their own life and why they believe that is their only option. But with about 44,000 people taking their lives every year, it’s a mental health issue that needs to be understood and talked about more often for us to fully comprehend so we can learn how to help and be an ally for those who are going through these unimaginable moments of hurt and pain.

While this topic has made news because of two heroes in their own right deciding to end their lives, this post isn’t about them and how they have impacted millions across the world with their love and devotion to their crafts. No, this post is about the ways we need to begin one of the most difficult conversations that we’re sometimes too afraid to have. This post is about becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable in the hopes that it will save someone else. But, ultimately, this post is for those who may be experiencing this situation first hand, who may be feeling lost and scared about the potential of losing someone they care about. That’s why I decided to connect with Vienna Pharaon, LMFT (Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist), Founder of MindfulMFT, to learn more about this topic, what should we do when we know someone who is experiencing these thoughts, and ways we can heal when we’ve experienced loss. Whether you know someone who is going through this, is a suicide survivor, or has lost a loved one to them committing suicide, I hope that this post helps you, because we’re all in this together.

There’s No Clear Path As to Why These Thoughts Might Occur

“Many things can contribute to depression and suicidal thoughts: family relationships, job/money stress, a relationship ending, tension and anxiety, lack of purpose, social isolation, or a predisposition are just a few to name. As more time goes by, you might see an individual have trouble enjoying normal things/activities, react slowly, behave irresponsibly, or neglect their appearance. You have to remember, there are many different depressive disorders: major depression, dysthymic disorder, bipolar disorder, postnatal or postpartum depression, or seasons of affective disorder, to name a few. Depression and its intensity can look and feel different for everyone. There may be clear triggers at times, and other times it may be harder to pinpoint.” – Pharaon.

However, There Are Common Signs That Can Indicate Something is Wrong

“Some signs to look for are purposelessness, hopelessness/helplessness, withdrawal, recklessness, substance abuse, anxiety, mood changes, anger, and suicidal ideation (thoughts) which could look like making a joke about suicide. What we can do is ask. As I mentioned earlier, research shows that asking someone if they’re suicidal actually reduces the likelihood that they’ll attempt suicide. If you’re ever suspecting or are concerned about an individual, just ask them. You don’t have to have all of the ‘right’ things to say, but seeing someone and noticing that they’re struggling can lift a lot of weight for another person. They’re noticed by you, and that’s important.”  – Pharaon.

Listen Instead of Trying to Change

“It’s quite hard for someone who is already having suicidal ideation and thoughts to disrupt them on their own. It’s why community, therapy, friends, and family are so important to have around. Social connection during this time is so important so [those] thoughts can be challenged and replaced.”

“When someone is thinking about suicide, there’s quite a bit of ‘evidence’ in their back pocket. Telling them ‘everything will be fine’ (when it hasn’t been) generally doesn’t counter that, especially if you haven’t listened to how they have gotten to where they are now. I’d recommend carving out some time to sit with them and truly listen to where they are. Ask about what’s gotten them there without having to convince them out of it. You have to listen before you can ever advise. It’s where I think many of us pivot prematurely. We want to convince someone out of something before we actually listen and understand.”  – Pharaon.

Image via Berta Bernad

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask the Hard Questions

“We have a horrendous stigma when it comes to mental health, and what we’re seeing more and more is that we need to speak way more openly about mental health than we do right now. It’s incredible how many people have stepped forward to share themselves, but this is just the beginning. One of the most important things we can do is speak about it. We have to ask and check in. Research shows that asking someone if they’re suicidal can reduce the likelihood that they will act on it. When we show others that we’re open to conversation, a beautiful opportunity to connect and support happens.”

“Be kind, compassionate, non-judgmental and willing to listen. Don’t place blame or rush someone through their process. Listen with as much kindness and compassion as you can.”  – Pharaon.

Stay Involved and Try to Connect Them With a Professional

“Being around is also important. Social isolation can often increase suicidal thoughts, so social support and community can reduce the risk. We also want to help them connect with professionals who can support them as well. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is (800) 273-8255. You can also help them look for a therapist in the area. And always make sure to follow up with your loved ones. Check back in and follow back around. Stay involved and connected. When we do this, the message we send is that they’re loved and they’re not alone. That message is a really powerful one when someone is struggling.”  – Pharaon.

Don’t Rush Through the Grief If You Lost Someone

“The relationship that we have to endings, loss, and grief is a very personal journey for each one of us. Losing someone to suicide can shake us to our core. It’s slightly different than other [types of] loss, be it old age, accidents, or illness, because many of us will struggle with the narrative ‘it could have been prevented if I…; I should have done something.’ We may have that narrative when it comes to other loss, but I think it’s one that is so common around suicide.”  

“Grief requires us to feel and create space for the pain to be experienced. Don’t expect to get over the loss, instead, be with the sadness and be each other’s support group. Everyone who has been impacted by the loss will need each other, whether it’s to talk or just be in the same space. Yes, alone time to just be is also valuable, but having people around reminding each other of healthy narratives is incredibly important.” – Pharaon.

If you or someone you love may be going having suicidal thoughts or thinking of harming themselves, please contact The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is (800) 273-8255.

Feature image via Pinterest Lilly Walker; original image unknown 

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