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How To Support A Survivor Through A Suicide Crisis

 

Many abuse survivors struggle with suicidal thoughts at some point in their life. For some of us it can be an ongoing struggle, when not a day passes by without at least a fleeting thought of killing yourself. These thoughts don't necessarily mean we'll act on them, but simply ignoring them and going about our day as if nothing was the matter doesn't work. Talking about them, however, is also hard - we don't want to be a burden on our loved ones, and we don't want them to overreact. It happens all too often that the minute we mention suicide a friend jumps to rescue - down to driving to our home uninvited in the middle of the night and/or calling the police - only to completely ignore it the next day and pretend nothing happened. It must be hard and confusing to someone who never considered suicide, to know how to talk of it, what helps and what doesn't. We hope this page might serve as a starting point.

Listen to what they are saying

This is the single most important thing you can do for them: just listen. Don't judge, don't jump to action, don't propose solutions, don't assume what they must be feeling/thinking based on what you would feel/think in their shoes. Just listen to what they are saying. This is what they need most - to be heard and understood.

Don't be afraid to ask questions

Does your friend has a suicide plan? The means to execute it? The set date? Did they make any arrangements already? You will need this information if the situation gets out of control and you have to call the police, so just ask them straight. They'll answer, they wouldn't be reaching out to you for help if they didn't want it. However, be careful to not imply which answer you want to hear. For example, when someone asked me, "You aren't going to do anything stupid, are you?" - I knew I had to find someone else to talk to.

Stay cool

Your friend is under enough stress already, don't add to it. Differentiate between threats and simple sharing of negative thoughts/emotions. "I'm gonna overdose tonight" is a threat, while "I'm feeling depressed and hopeless lately" is not. Take each threat seriously, but don't call the police on someone who just needs to talk and isn't actually planning to kill themselves any time soon. When in doubt - play it safe and ask them to call a hotline; hotline volunteers are trained to assess actual danger, let them do the guesswork.

Don't attempt to "save" them by yourself

Do not play therapist on someone in crisis - imagine if you fail? You are a friend, not a counselor. Your friend needs both, so don't try to sit on two chairs at once. Listen to what they are willing to share, but encourage them to get professional help as well: counselling, therapy, hotlines, ER. Don't try to substitute for it, it's not a competition: the more help they get, the better.

Don't keep secrets

Be clear that you will do anything necessary if their life is in danger, including a call to the police. Saving a life takes preference over confidentiality. Would you rather have your friend stay alive, but get mad at you and cut you off, or would you rather visit their grave and find solace in the fact that you remained "loyal" at the cost of their life? Aside from moral responsibility for your friend's death, you could be in legal trouble if they told you they were in danger and you didn't reach out for help.

If it's an emergency

Call the police right away, but do not leave your friend alone. Even one minute can be enough to commit suicide, don't give them this minute. If you are not with them physically - keep them on the phone until the police arrives. Make them talk to you, of anything at all, just don't let them hang up. People in an immediate suicide crisis can be too upset to keep up a meaningful conversation (would you, if you were about to die?), so if there are long pauses and you're panicking about what to say - just bombard your friend with simple questions: what room are you in, have you fed the dog today, are the kids already asleep, etc. Stay with them till the police gets there.

If it's not an emergency

Suicide crisis doesn't start overnight and doesn't pass overnight either. If your friend isn't about to hang themselves right now, it doesn't mean they're fine and dandy. They're still suffering, and if they are left without support - suicidal thoughts will return. Drop by with some chicken soup. Try to drag them out of the house: shopping, cooking, movie-watching, jogging in a park, volunteering in a soup kitchen - anything at all, preferably planned from beforehand. Check in once in a while, let them know you're there if they need you.

Know your limits

Suicidal crisis is very stressful for everyone involved. Trying to do more than you can puts unnecessary strain on you, and doesn't help your friend either. Imagine a drowning person reaching for your hand: to pull them out of the water you need to be standing on solid ground yourself. If you let them drag you into the water, this won't help: you both will drown. If your friend's suicidal crises are more than you can comfortably handle - refer them to hotlines, online support groups, therapist listings, etc. You don't have to be their only source of support, it's good for them to have many such sources, it doesn't mean you can't be friends anymore.



The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.
~ Ernest Hemingway
This page was last updated on September 27th, 2017
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