How To Support A Loved One Who Is Suicidal
I have a close family member, whom I will call Sam to protect their identity. Sam has struggled with suicidal thoughts and self-harm. Last year, Sam tried to take their life a few times after trying to cope with depression and addiction for nearly a decade. It left me confused, angry, sad, and anxious. I thought “if only I had been there” or “what could I do differently?” The reality is, I could not have done anything differently, I’ve provided support, resources, and love over the years and had to accept this was about their struggle and nothing else I could have done would have changed anything.
Suicide is not an easy subject to talk about, people tense up and get scared when we talk about suicide, no matter how uncomfortable the subject may be, we need to talk about it. We need to share our personal stories of our struggles and struggles loved ones have had (if you are sharing parts of someone’s story, please get their permission or protect their identity by creating a pseudonym).
If you suspect your loved one is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, but you are not sure what to do, the below tips will help. We also have a downloadable guide with suicide hotlines and mental health resources. You can download that guide HERE.
Tell them you care about them:
Sometimes in our tech-obsessed world, we become disconnected from the world around us. If you suspect someone in your life is struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts or if they have a history of suicide attempts, please make time to visit them in person. Setting up a regular date to go out for coffee, dinner or hang out at their place gives them some consistency when their life may be less than consistent.
Make a folder via google docs or a paper folder with suicide helplines, local centers, and websites/blogs that offer helpful content for someone struggling. They may be resistant to it at first, but knowing it is there in time of need can help put someone at ease as they don’t have to search for the information themselves.
Talk about your story:
If you have a personal experience about coping with a mental health condition or suicide, share it- just refrain from saying anything triggering ex. how an attempt was made. If you don’t have a story, share a story about someone else you may know who struggled and is now in a better place. Sometimes those struggling need to know that those who went through similar situations can come out of the darkness and not only survive, but thrive.
Self-care and lifestyle:
If you notice your loved one is not taking care of themselves the way they used to, encourage them to practice self-care. Self-care practices vary person to person, but basic self-care is pretty much the same. Suggest regular exercise a few times a week, eating more fruits and vegetables, eating foods they enjoy, getting enough sleep, going outside for a few minutes and taking their medication. Basic self-care may be a struggle for those who are experiencing a severe bout of depression, it may take time and patience is key in these situations.
Call the emergency line:
If you suspect your loved one is going to hurt themselves or another person, call 911 or the equivalent in your country.
If you have a loved one you are supporting who is having suicidal thoughts or struggling with their mental health, please take care of yourself. Caring for someone who is going through an intensely, painful time in their life can put a strain on your mental and physical health. It is essential for you to take time outside the situation to care for yourself- talk to a trusted friend or family member, call your therapist, maintain stable blood sugar by eating regularly and packing snacks, drink water, and rest. When I was caring for Sam, I had a spike in my anxiety and returned to therapy and relied on my support system for extra support. You can’t help someone if you are not taking care of yourself.
To learn more about suicide misconceptions, warning signs are more information on suicide, please visit this page on Suicide Prevention.
Written by Amanda Shea