Identifying and helping a loved one who may be thinking of suicide.
On average one person dies by suicide every five hours in Ohio, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Suicide is a scary idea and a touchy subject for many. Not many people want to bring it up around the dinner table or even to their best friends. Yet, most of us know of or have heard someone who has made comments about harming themselves. You may wonder if it’s best to say anything bringing attention to the subject or if you should just ignore it in case you’re wrong and may offend them. However, think of the alternative and what could truly be going on. I always say that I would rather have someone alive and mad at me for caring enough to say and do something rather than the alternative.
September 8-14 is National Suicide Prevention Week. Suicide is now the 2nd leading cause of death among 15- to 35-year-olds. The highest suicide rates occur among adults between ages 45 to 54 years. The second highest group is those aged 85 years old and older. The fact is that you will never know how serious someone is unless you ask them.
You cannot make someone suicidal just by asking them questions. Seriously, please believe me when I say you are not that “powerful.” You won’t give someone diabetes if you talk to them about unhealthy eating habits and no one turns into a llama if you ask them if they want a llama. It’s the same concept. What you are doing is giving them the opportunity to express their feelings and providing them with a safe space to do so.
If you are unsure of how to start a conversation you can say things like, “I have been feeling concerned about you” or simply, “I am just checking in with you.” Sometimes, others may approach you first or may make passing comments about suicide. These could catch you off guard as there may not be any other signs of depression, anxiety, trauma, or distress. If someone does approach you or make those comments, you can say things such as, “you are not alone in this and I’m here for you,” “how can I best support you right now?” or “I am not sure what to say exactly but I’m glad you said something.” If someone tells you they are thinking about death, it is important to respond. Those who have a plan, the means to carry it out, a timeframe, and the intention to do it have a higher risk of suicide.
An important thing for you to remember is that you don’t have to be alone in this either and should surround yourself with your own self-care and supports. It is hard to not take responsibility for your loved one’s actions as you cannot force them to get better. You can offer them help and give them resources. Refer them to get them professional treatment and if needed get your own because it takes a lot of strength to help someone who is battling with suicidal thoughts and witnessing behaviors that, at times, are very challenging. So while it’s important to reach out and help your loved ones, it’s equally important for you to get the help you need as well.
Renee Leber, LISW-S, is a therapist with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, 282 Benedict Avenue, Medical Park 2, Suite C in Norwalk on the Fisher-Titus Medical Center campus. She offers psychotherapy services to all age groups, addressing abuse, trauma, adjustment disorders, disruptive behaviors, social and family issues, anxiety and depressive and bipolar disorders. For more about Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit https://www.fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.