hands reaching out to each other

talking to somebody who is suicidal

Colin

In his role as both trainer and business owner of ALTTA Group, Colin has become a passionate mental health advocate. Colin’s mental health support skills are often used to help people with their anxieties and stress.

I am honoured, I am privileged, and I am happy.

 

Why?

 

Because people who were suicidal spoke to me.

 

They may not have chosen to talk to me directly as I was volunteering with SHOUT, a text message service. But they did choose to stay and chat.

How does it feel to talk to somebody who is suicidal?

There are several answers to this:

  1. Scary. You are paranoid that you may say or do something that could escalate the situation. This would normally happen in a situation where you have not received any training in how to deal with a person who wishes to take their own life. It could also happen if you are newly qualified as a mental health first aider or a volunteer – although you are qualified, you are also inexperienced.

  2. Calm and easy going. You may not have noticed that suicide is a part of their thought process. We will look at this in more detail during the blog, but you could have been speaking to somebody for days, weeks, months, or even years and not picked up on the fact they are having suicidal thoughts.

  3. Scared but confident. You know what to say and do. Confidence grows with experience and training. The more trained you are, the better prepared you are, the more you talk to people who are having suicidal thoughts, then the more confident you become. Do you still feel a little anxious and scared? Yes you do. In fact I would argue that if you didn’t, then maybe you are not the right person to deal with the situation.

Once a person takes their own life, it is often said that there were not any signs.

This may be the case. But it could also be the case that in fact the signs were there, but we just haven’t been taught to recognise them.

For example, have a read of this fictional transcript I’ve written.

 

Dave: Hi John, how’s tricks?

 

John: Not good mate, things have not improved at home, the debts just keep rolling in.  I can’t see a way out of this.

 

Dave: How long has it been since you last worked?

 

John: About 3 months and no sign of change.

 

Dave: That’s a long-time mate but something will turn up.

 

John: I hope so as I am getting desperate, I feel I am failing my family, and they may be better off without me.

 

(Awkward silence……………………………………….)

 

Dave: Well, chin up mate, something will turn up.  I have to go, catch you soon…

 

John: (to the now silent phone)… I hope so …

How many signs of suicide did you notice there?

I can see at least three.  Below we will highlight and discuss the sentences that lead us to think suicide:

  1. John: “Not good mate, things have not improved at home, the debts just keep rolling in. I can’t see a way out of this.
    • This can be a throwaway line but must never be ignored. The fact they are saying they cannot see a way out could mean they have no options and that only leaves one way out.

  2. John: “About 3 months and no sign of change.”
    • Studies show that the risk of suicide increases after being unemployed for just 1 month. Most people live pay packet to pay packet, and missing just one month of money puts them into debt.

  3. John: “I hope so as I am getting desperate, I feel I am failing my family, and they may be better off without me.”
    • As before this could just be a throwaway comment but you should never ignore it.

Let’s run the conversation again and see how we can deal with the situation differently.

 

Dave: Hi John, how’s tricks?

 

John: Not good mate, things have not improved at home, the debts just keep rolling in.  I can’t see a way out of this.

 

Dave: Sorry to hear that John, it must be tough for you right now. Although you cannot see it now there is always a way out, maybe we could look together. How long have you been out of work now?

 

John: About 3 months and no sign of change.

 

Dave: I can see why you would feel this way after 3 months. Have you ever been in this situation before?

 

John: A few years ago, I was out of work for 6 months and then I got this job.

 

Dave: That’s positive then as you have been here before and you managed to get a job and sort your finances out last time. If you have done it once, you can do it again mate. I can help you and we can see what solutions there are to help you.

 

John: I hope so, as I am getting desperate. I feel I am failing my family, and they may be better off without me.

 

(No awkward silence)

 

Dave: It’s normal to feel the way you do when you are in your situation. You’ve mentioned that you don’t see a way out and your family would be better off without you. What do you mean by that? Are you having suicidal thoughts John?

Is it right to ask a person if they are suicidal?

There is stigma around all aspects of mental health but especially suicide. I am sure this is down to the fact we do not want to hear the answer “yes”, as we do not know how to deal with it. It makes us uncomfortable, or maybe we just don’t have the time right now to listen.

 

So, is it right to ask about suicide then?

 

100 percent yes. 

 

If we ask and the person says no, then no harm done but you have shown you care.

 

If they say yes, then we can start looking at what we can do to get them help.

So what do we do if they say yes?

If a person says yes, then we need to start asking a different set of questions. 

 

We must also remember that suicide should not be kept secret and if the situation is going to cause a threat to the life of the person or others, then police intervention may be needed.

 

In the world of suicide prevention, the questions you ask are called “laddering up”.

 

Let’s return to the chat Dave and John were having.

 

Dave: It’s normal to feel the way you do when you are in your situation. You’ve mentioned that you don’t see a way out and your family would be better off without you. Are you having suicidal thoughts John?

 

John: I have thought about taking my life on several occasions.

 

Dave: Thank you for sharing that with me, it must be hard saying that out loud. Have you thought about how you want to do it?

 

John: I have thought of using tablets.

 

Dave: It’s good that you are sharing this with me and talking. Do you have the tablets that you wish to use?

 

John: Yes they are at home in the bathroom cabinet.

 

Dave: You are doing really well mate, let’s keep talking. Do you have a time frame in which you wish to take them?

 

John: If things do not improve in the next 3 months, that’s it.

 

Dave: You are showing great strength my friend, are you prepared to talk to me and put a plan together and get you the help you need with finances and these thoughts you are having.

 

John: Yes, that would be great.

If Dave did not ask the questions, then he would not know how John was feeling and potentially he would have taken his own life. But by asking the questions Dave has ensured that there is a chance for John to get help and realise that he is not on his own.

 

The moral of this post is simple – keep talking, no matter how bad things are, there is always a way to get help.

 

If you are the listener, then the moral of the story is to ask about suicide, ask the question, if you feel it is hiding in the background.

 

Remember the hub is a place to speak in a friendly non-judgemental environment.

 

As a volunteer, I did not get to find out if my actions prevented suicide or not, but it does make me feel honoured, privileged, and happy I got to try.

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