Reassuring a Suicidal Person
By: Beth McHugh 2007
In our continuing series on suicide, we look today at how to give reassurance, information, and hope to a person at risk of suicide. Suicide claims the lives of tens of thousands of Americans each year, and victims are of both genders, and come from a multitude of backgrounds. Certainly success and money are no insurance against the depression and anxiety that predates suicidal thoughts and actions.
Once the crisis point has passed, it is important to provide ongoing support for your friend or family member who has expressed suicidal ideation, i.e. there has been talk and action plans for completing the suicidal act.
Help the person to feel hope and optimism by assuring them that the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness form part of a real medical illness for which there is treatment available. Reassure them that depression is a common illness and that mental health patients occupy more hospital beds than people suffering physical illnesses. Outpatient figures are similar. There is no shortage of depressed people in the world and understanding that the person is not alone in their predicament is reassuring in itself.
Depression is a real medical condition and is not a sign of weakness or laziness. It is not a character defect. Reiterating these facts to your depressed friend will help them to see a small pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel. And all that is required is a pinprick. The person’s natural inbuilt survival system will take over once hope is re-established.
Reassure the person that life problems and the resultant depression that sometimes follows takes a long time to develop and therefore will not be resolved instantly. Do not tell a person that antidepressants will cure them within a couple of weeks. Most likely the person will have personal experience that this is not the case. In the very least, it offers false hope that no drug can deliver. Your friend does not need that dilemma further down the track.
Once the depressed/suicidal person has been referred to an appropriate psychiatrist or psychologist, what else can you do? Regular contact and asking pertinent questions, such as “how are you REALLY feeling” will show that you care for the person’s wellbeing.
Lastly, provide the same support as you would for a physically ill
person. These include sending get well cards, flowers, food, phoning
and personal visits, shopping and finding out any particular needs that
the person requires. Support is the best treatment for any illness,
including emotional-based conditions.