Navigating your own mental wellness can be hard, but helping to navigate mental health challenges of a friend or loved one can be even trickier. Suicide is often an uncomfortable topic and can be difficult for others to speak about, but what if we had more of these conversations? What if we prompted those we love and asked them about their mental health as a way to help prevent suicide?
“Most people don’t want to die. They just want the emotional pain that they’re in to stop. It can feel unbearable and they lose hope that it’s ever going to get better and that is when people become suicidal," says Becky Stoll, Vice President of Crisis & Disaster Management at Centerstone.
Hearing someone that you care about express thoughts of suicide can be both shocking and heartbreaking, but there are some ways you can help. The next time you are worried about someone try to utilize these tips to engage them in conversation and help create a safe space for sharing:
Try to remain calm. “The keyword is to try” says Stoll. It can be overwhelming, especially if you have never been told by someone that they are experiencing these feelings, so try not to panic. Breathe!
Listen to what they have to say. Consider what they may have recently been through. Provide a safe space for them to share. Thank them for sharing what is very difficult to articulate and acknowledge their struggles. It can be incredibly painful to share this information with someone, so acknowledgment is crucial.
Don’t change the subject. When someone shares this painful information with you it might be hard to hear, but imagine feeling the way that they feel. Changing the subject signals that you are not someone they can talk to about their feelings and challenges. Focus on the person who is in front of you and let them know you will be there for them.
Don’t be dismissive. Don't use phrases that undermine their feelings such as, “You’re not really feeling this way. You don’t mean that. Don’t say that.” Phrases like these are very dismissive of their feelings and take away the severity of the situation.
Make a commitment to them. Let them know that you are there for them and willing to sit in this place with them. What you are relaying to them can sound like this: I am here emotionally and physically for you. I can commit that we will get through this together. We will find the resources that you need.
Discuss treatment options. Mental health conversations can make people feel very vulnerable. Some fear that if they feel suicidal that they will be involuntarily committed to a hospital, but this is simply not the case the majority of the time. Let them know you will find treatment options together. They can then figure out what types of care work best for them and what they would be willing to try.
If you or someone you know might be at risk for suicide or other mental health challenges, Centerstone can help. Call us at 1-877-HOPE123 or visit centerstone.org for more information.
John Markley serves as Regional CEO in Illinois, serving residents in eastern and southern Illinois through more than 30 locations that provide treatment, support and educational programs and services to individuals who have mental health and addiction disorders and specialized services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Centerstone employs over 525 staff in Illinois and serves more than 17,000 individuals annually.