Sunday, September 10, 2017

Suicide Awareness - The Second of a 7-Part Series

"Acceptance doesn’t suggest that you endorse or encourage suicide as a solution. Rather, unconditional acceptance communicates that you hear and understand the other person’s feelings at this moment."

This is the second post of a seven-part series. If you haven't already, you can find the first part here.

Helping a Suicidal Person

My goal for this post is to begin a list of the things that have actually helped various people during a suicidal crisis.


Beyond reflective listening and accounting for basic safety, how can one navigate a relationship with a suicidal person and offer help without doing damage? It may seem counter-intuitive, but much of this amounts to acceptance. There are many ways to express unconditional acceptance of a suicidal person.

First, accept the suicidal person as they are now. What does that mean?
  • Accept rather than debate their desire to die.
  • Accept rather than debate the fact that death actually would eliminate pain.
Acceptance doesn’t suggest that you endorse or encourage suicide as a solution. Rather, unconditional acceptance communicates that you hear and understand the other person’s feelings at this moment.

Certain normal but unconstructive reactions can convey the opposite of acceptance:
  • Interrupting can break a depressed person’s train of thought when they are already having trouble focusing—and it may seem to dismiss their feelings.
  • Contradicting a suicidal person doesn’t help, even when they express self-destructive feelings. Avoid these reactions:
    • “Suicide is not an option!”
    • “But you’ve always been so happy!
    • “I just know you won’t do that.”
Such remarks can seem to minimize disturbing feelings. Instead, reflect such feelings back:
  • Don’t dismiss expressions of emotion. Empathizing can be hard, because most of us haven’t experienced truly suicidal feelings. The extremes of despair are unfamiliar and may even seem exaggerated.
  • Avoid “tough love.” In this situation, it can be dangerous.
  • Don’t assume that someone who expresses suicidal feelings is just trying to get attention.
  • No matter how shocking or dramatic or inaccurate such expressions are, don’t judge or overreact. Try not to provoke guilt and shame, which may be just beneath the surface. Guilt-tripping a suicidal person could make them feel even worse about their life.
  • Instead, let the person say terrible things, if necessary. By telling you the worst of what they feel, they are reaching out for help.
Finally, although it can be very difficult, tell the truth. Depression narrows and distorts a person’s view of life. Carol, who had some psychotic symptoms, asked family members over and over, “Are you real?” “Is this situation real?” “Am I crazy? Be honest.” She was directly asking for help, and she was willing to trust others’ perceptions when she wasn’t sure. In that situation, a reality check was helpful. While avoiding words like “crazy, answer these and other questions simply, clearly, and honestly rather than “humoring” the depressed person by saying what you think they want to hear. Telling the truth builds trust and clarity, two things that suicidal people desperately need.

The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: “What are you going through?” --Simone Weil
Tapir Signal is looking for volunteers in a variety of areas including housing, employment, and other practical concerns as well as LGBT issues and suicide awareness. Suicide awareness volunteers must be 21 or older. They should be mental health practitioners and/or have personal or close family experience with suicide.

If you are in need of help, you can reach us here.

If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-784-2433.

If you are LGBT+ and need to talk, please contact the LGBT National Hotline at 1-888-843-4564 or find them online here.

Know you are safe and among friends and we will do whatever we can to help.

Lastly, if you would like to be involved or volunteer, you can reach out to us here.

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