There are few things in the world more frightening than hearing that someone is thinking about suicide.
Even when you know you have done everything possible to support them, it’s natural to feel an unsettling sense of preoccupation and responsibility.
If this sounds familiar, here’s a checklist of four things you can do to take care of yourself.
Focus on what you have done, not what you haven’t
Hindsight is not always a wonderful thing. When it comes to having conversations about suicide, it’s easy to dwell on what you ‘could’ or ‘should’ have said or done long after the moment has passed.
While it’s natural to think about what you could have done differently, it can also cause anxiety and stress. Focus on what you did do — how you sensitively responded to someone in need.
Perhaps you asked them if they were okay. Something as simple as asking can help someone who is suffering feel less alone.
Maybe you agreed to check-in with them again in a few days or a week.
However you responded, remember that you were there in that moment to support them, and you said and did whatever you could to help.
Give yourself permission to feel
Having an encounter with suicide is a big event in anyone’s life. Thinking that it shouldn’t bother us, or that you should just be able to ‘get on with it’ is unrealistic. It’s normal to feel a bit ‘knocked about’ emotionally – this is okay, it’s a sign you care!
Give yourself permission to feel this way. If you invest too much energy in trying to push difficult feelings away, you’re only going to wear yourself out and end up feeling worse.
If the distress continues for longer than a few weeks – and is present most of the day, more days than not – consider seeking professional support.
Talk about how you’re feeling
This might seem obvious, but it can be tempting to hold back for fear of burdening people. Ironically, this is the same dilemma people with suicidal thoughts experience.
Holding onto pain alone is difficult. The longer we hold it, the more likely it is to affect us. Imagine you are holding something heavy in your hand with your arm straight out in front of you. What’s okay to hold for a few seconds becomes intolerable after a week, a month, a year.
The same can be true for our feelings. Talking about them is often one of the best ways to let them go.
So whether it’s with a trusted friend or family member – or a professional counsellor or psychologist – an open, honest and supportive conversation about how you’re feeling can be helpful.
Share the care
Preventing suicide is never the responsibility of a single person. It’s very important to remember this after someone discloses suicidal thoughts, as it can often feel like we are solely responsible for ‘saving’ them.
Aside from this being untrue, if you take on this burden you might find you quickly unravel and become burnt out or overwhelmed. This is not good for you, and might also be unhelpful for the person in need.
Instead of holding it in, enlist the help of family members, friends, colleagues, health professionals, or emergency services. Throw the net wide and draw on as much support as you can, remembering that we all play an important role in keeping people in our communities safe.
Try to remember . . .
- Focus on what you did do, not what you didn’t
- Remember that it’s ‘okay’ to feel upset – it’s a sign you care
- Talk to others about how you’re feeling – don’t bottle it up
- And remember not to shoulder all of the responsibility for keeping your loved one safe.
One way you can use this experience for good is to keep the conversation about suicide going. Use the experience as a way to start important discussions and raise awareness (remembering to respect the anonymity of the person who disclosed). By talking about suicide you are breaking down the stigma that surrounds it, and helping bring others who are suffering out from the shadows.
More to read . . .
- Supporting someone having thoughts of suicide
- Busting the myths about suicide
- SANE Guide to staying alive
- Self-help if you are feeling suicidal
If you require information regarding mental health services, or if you or someone you know is in a crisis, please contact the SANE Helpline (1800 18 7263) or Lifeline (13 11 14).