TIPS FOR CONVERSATIONS AROUND SUICIDE
Conversations around suicide can be difficult. It can be hard to know what to say, do, or how to help someone experiencing suicidal thoughts or someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. Often not knowing what to say, leads us to say nothing. But conversations around suicide are very important and we hope that these tips will help should you need them.
How to support someone who has lost a loved one to suicide
When people lose someone close to suicide, it can be hard to know what to say or do in such a situation. No one wants to say the wrong thing and we wish to support them as best as we can. Here are some tips.
- Acknowledge what has happened. There is nothing worse than people avoiding the elephant in the room. Say “I heard what happened. I’m so sorry. How are you feeling?” The best way we can support anyone who is grieving is by listening to their story and their feelings.
- Listen and be present. Often, we try to give advice or say something supportive. Try to avoid clichés like: “They are in a better place now!” or “Time will heal.” Advice is not what they need, it’s a listening ear. Let them know that they are not alone with their feelings.
- Don’t put a time frame on grief. Allow them to express grief at any point in time and support them when they do. Grief is often lifelong; we just learn to live alongside it. Even after a few years, you can still check in with the person, and ask them “how are you feeling about that now?” Often, people will appreciate someone acknowledging the suicide. Don’t avoid the subject, keep the door open, so they know it is safe to talk about it.
- Bereavement counselling. Suggest the person gets bereavement counselling. You could offer to give them a lift if they find it difficult to go on their own.
What to do when someone mentions they have thoughts about suicide
It can be frightening when someone we love, a family member or friend, mentions they are having thoughts about suicide. Here are some helpful tips to support you in such a situation.
- Ask, listen and be present. Listening and being present is key when someone expresses such deep emotions of hopelessness. You don’t have to fix it or give advice. Gently encourage them to express how they feel and what bothers them most. Sometimes the person may not be able to express how they are feeling. This is okay and the most important thing is that you stay with the person and provide a reassuring presence. Don’t judge them or make them feel wrong. If the person has alluded to suicide or if you are worried about them, you can ask “are you having thoughts of suicide?”
- Encourage hope. Thoughts about suicide stem from overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness. If someone loses hope that the situation will ever change or feels powerless to change the situation, they can start to feel there is no way out. Encourage them to take steps towards seeking professional help to address what is overwhelming them.
- Ask them if they have a suicide plan. Although this may be a very confronting thing to ask, it can determine how urgent the situation is.
- Seek help from a professional. Call 000 or the Mental Health Emergency Response Line 1300 555 788 and stay with the person until they arrive. You could also accompany them to the GP or the local Emergency Room so they can receive a referral to a professional.
Lifeline 13 11 14
What to do when someone close to you is diagnosed with mental illness
The best way to help someone experiencing a mental health challenge is to offer a listening ear and let them know you are there for them.
- Listen & encourage professional support: Often, we have a strong desire to ‘fix’ or ‘solve’ someone else’s problem, however, this is not your role and should be left to a professional. The best thing you can do is to help them find an appropriate service through a GP, mental health phone line, mental health service or by searching online.
- Acknowledge your own feelings: It is normal to feel a range of powerful — and often unpleasant — emotions such as anger, shame, embarrassment, guilt, self-blame, hurt and grief when a loved one behaves in a way that is difficult to understand or deal with. Opening conversations around suicide and educating yourself about their mental challenge may help with processing your own emotions.
- Practise self-care: Self-care is not selfish, but a necessity if you are supporting someone with mental illness, to avoid getting to the point where you experience fatigue or burn-out. Go back to the basics: get enough sleep, do some regular physical activity, eat well, spend time with friends or loved ones, and engage in activities or hobbies that you enjoy.
- Get support: Having someone close to you who lives with mental illness can be overwhelming and frustrating, sometimes confusing and isolating too. But you do not have to go through it alone. HelpingMinds® offers free and confidential support to people who are caring for someone living with mental health challenges. We offer free counselling, support groups, rest and revive activities, school holiday programs, family programs, youth programs and advocacy to people living in WA.
If you are supporting a loved one with mental health challenges, even if they have not been diagnosed, we can support you. Call HelpingMinds® on (08) 9427 7100 or visit www.helpingminds.org.au.