How to help a suicidal loved one

When a loved one says that they are contemplating suicide, or says things that sound as if they are considering the act, it can be very upsetting. You may not be sure what to do to help, whether you should take talk of suicide seriously, or if your intervention might make the situation worse. Taking action is always the best choice.

How to help a suicidal loved one

Here's how you can help them.

One myth about suicide prevention is that talking about it can increase the risk that someone will actually take their own life, but it’s just not true. The reality is anyone with a significant depression has passing thoughts of death and suicide in a simple desire to end their misery.

Instead of avoiding the topic, ask if things are so bad they have thought about death, or ending their life. Depending on the response, follow up with questions like what they’ve thought about doing and why.

Being contacted by someone who cares can go a long way toward limiting the isolation and helplessness a suicidally depressed person can feel.

Letting a loved one know how much you care about them, and offering help, can be an important lifeline in keeping them safe.

People who are suicidal will often shut down and stop doing things that they enjoy. Try encouraging your loved one to keep doing things they've always enjoyed by taking them out for a manicure or grabbing a meal together. It’s also a good idea to try to encourage them to try new activities and experiences.

You can even do the legwork for them, researching good psychologists or asking for a referral, and actually escorting them to their appointments. It’s important to encourage them not to give up.

If it seems like your loved one has a plan and you’re worried to let them out of your sight, try to take them to the doctors and wait there while they get assessed. This is a major step in helping someone who is seriously considering taking their own life.

When a loved one is depressed your instinct may be to take over their responsibilities for them, but while that may be appropriate in some circumstances like taking care of their children while they go to therapy, knowing that others are depending on them can actually help them resist suicidal urges.

These responsibilities should be compelling, but not overwhelming like asking them to take on dinner responsibilities a few times a week. This will help your loved one see that you rely on them, that they add a lot of worthwhile things to your life, that they can make meaningful contributions, and that you appreciate them.

Having a sense of spirituality has been shown to be protective against suicidal thoughts and urges. What spirituality means and how you practice it will look different from person to person, so talk to your loved one about what makes them feel like a good person and connected to others and the universe.

Encourage them to go with you to a church service, a retreat, or some other place that helps them feel a sense of being connected to humanity, God, or simply something bigger than themselves.

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