If you know someone who may be talking about taking their own life – read on.
This article is part 3 of a 4-part mini-series on suicide, inspired by the recent loss of a dear friend – Simon “Sketch” Ellis – who took his own life in early 2013. This piece is dedicated to friends out there all over the world who might – one day – have the opportunity to help someone they know and love to make a different choice.
Given that for every murder you hear about in the news, there are 2 to 3 successful suicides, a suicidal friend might be much closer than you think.
If you’re worried about a friend, pay attention to ~
- “Nothing brings me pleasure any more.”
- “You’d all be better off without me.”
- “Life’s pretty pointless.”
- “I’m in so much pain.”
- “I can’t face another Christmas like this.”
- “It’s too late – I’ve nothing to live for.”
- “Nobody understands.”
- Have they given loads of stuff away lately?
- Have they bought something expensive like a boat even when facing financial hardship?
- Do they have wild mood swings from very low to very manic?
- Are they overdoing drugs or alcohol?
- Are they reading about suicide?
- Are they hoarding pills or buying weapons?
- Have they ever attempted suicide before?
- Have they just ended a close relationship?
- Have they lost a loved one to suicide?
- Have they had a recent “bad-news” medical diagnosis?
- Have they been recently discharged from hospital?
- Have they been recently discharged from prison?
- Have they been through a painful, ugly divorce?
- Has someone close to them just died?
- Have they recently been in a war zone?
- Have they been bullied?
- Have they recently “come out” as LGBT and been met with hostility?
Any one of these alone isn’t enough to lead a person to suicide, but if you begin to connect the dots and have some inkling your friend is in deep emotional pain,
REMEMBER THESE 3 THINGS
- Very few people are 100% committed to ending their life. This means they will have mixed feelings: part of them just wants to end the pain, but part of them is scanning for any signs of hope and help. You’ll be speaking directly to that part of them that wants to live.
- Talking about suicide does not make someone suicidal.
- You won’t get this wrong if you care.
WHAT TO SAY
Part 1 – Connect
- Ask for some time with your friend.
- Share what you’ve noticed (see the indicators or clues above).
- Let them know you are concerned.
- Ask them what’s going on.
- Listen very carefully.
Part 2 – Understand
- Work to understand all the things troubling your friend.
- When you think he or she has said everything, ask “What else is troubling you”?
- Stay warm, empathic and attentive.
Part 3 – Ask the 5 Questions
If the list of painful feelings and events is getting pretty long and you can tell your friend feels overwhelmed, ask each of the five questions below, pausing between each question to listen to the answers:
- “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
- “How do you plan to take your life?”
- “Do you have what you need?”
- “Have you ever tried before?” If so, when and how?”
- “What’s the hurry? Why now?”
Part 4 – How “LETHAL” [to themselves] is your friend?
If your friend answers “Yes – I have been thinking about suicide actually” notice how the answers to the next four questions will frame what you do next in terms of how LETHAL their plan is.
You ask “How do you plan to take your life?”
- Low lethality response: “Well, you know, I wish I could just take a few too many pills one night.”
- High lethality response: “I plan to shoot myself.”
You ask “Do you have what you need?”
- Low lethality response: “I’ve got a few tramadol, but I guess I’d have to get a prescription for a whole lot more.”
- High lethality response: “Yes, I have a loaded gun in my house.”
You ask “Have you ever tried before?” If so, when and how?”
- Low lethality response: “Oh no – I’ve felt bad from time to time like this, but even though I talk about it – just as a way to feel like I could end the pain, you know – I’ve never tried anything.”
- High lethality response: “Yes. Took an overdose 6 months ago – ended up getting my stomach pumped since I didn’t take enough and my wife found me. This time I’ll make sure I finish the job.”
You ask “What’s the hurry? Why now?”
- Low lethality response: “I’m not sure why now – I’ve been slipping in to a lower and lower mood I guess, but come to think of it, I’d like to see my granddaughter’s Christmas play.”
- High lethality response: “Well, tomorrow is the 5th anniversary of my son’s death over in Afghanistan. I’ve never forgiven myself for pressuring him enlist. Told him he’d amount to nothing if he didn’t get some discipline. The wife left me over it. I told myself last year when she left me, that I couldn’t face that anniversary again.”
You get the picture right – the person who is thinking about maybe getting a prescription is not in the same urgency bracket at the second man – whose pain is exquisite, and whose means and timeframe are immediate.
If you are still not sure however, you can always ask
“On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is no way will you kill yourself any time soon and 10 is you don’t plan to see tomorrow, where are you?”
Part 5 – Take Action
Remember – you are talking to that part of this person who wants to believe there is hope for a future. Hope for the pain to pass. Even the broken father in the scenario above will have a small % of himself clinging to life.
If your friend’s plan is on the low lethality spectrum, let them know~
- You are concerned.
- You care about them and want them to find more happiness.
- You know they have mixed feelings – part of them just wants to end the pain and part of them wants to believe life can be good again.
- Ask them if they will commit to getting some help – seeing their local doctor, talking with family, meeting with you again, etc.
If your friend’s plan is on the high lethality spectrum, let them know~
- You are very concerned.
- Even though it seems as though they are hell-bent on ending their lives, let them know you know there is some small % of them that wants to live.
- Tell them you are talking to that part – even if it is only 2% of them.
- Tell that part you are taking them to the hospital right now.
- On the way, brainstorm for the names of any other beings on the planet who might be devastated if this person killed themselves – grand-kids, spouse, children, siblings, dear friends, dog… hunt for whatever you can that will connect this person to life.
- Remember – IF you’ve had this conversation it has clearly all been with the part of him or her who wants to live. If your friend wants to kill himself, he still can. Another day. Not on your watch.
Part 6 – Take Care of Yourself
Whether your friend is successfully helped and ends up living a happier life, or becomes one of the “successful” suicides, you’ll probably need to talk about this with someone yourself. By all means use the resources below to get some help.
WHAT NOT TO SAY
Avoid the following ~
- “I know just what you mean.” You don’t, and it’s not about you just now.
- “Don’t worry – things will all work out.” Again, you don’t know, so don’t lie.
- “You do it then – just go ahead and kill yourself!” Bluffs won’t make you feel good when they are carried out.
- “You’re so selfish to even consider suicide – you’ll just mess up your family.” Someone considering suicide is at the end of their rope, already strangled by guilt, and feeling un-entitled to pretty much even their next breath. Adding a guilt trip (however true this may be) will not help alleviate their mood of despair.
- “But you have so much to live for!” Again, you are not talking to a resourceful, rational being here.
SUPPORT FOR FOLKS IN NEW ZEALAND
- Lifeline: 0800 543 354
- National Healthline 0800 611 116
- Depression helpline: 0800 111 757
- Youthline: 0800 376 633
- Samaritans: 0800 726 666
- Great web site for depressed teens
SUPPORT FOR FOLKS IN THE USA
- Call us on 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
(I’ll add more as I find them – especially for the USA)
Other Articles in this Mini-Series