You don’t need fancy words to start a potentially life-saving conversation. A simple “Are things so bad you are thinking of ending your life?” is enough.
If the answer is “Yes”, don’t respond by reciting a litany of reasons there are to go on living or try to guilt or shame the person into not killing themselves because it would hurt you or be inconvenient for others. If the answer is “No”, don’t assume you are hearing the truth.
Such actions are dangerous, insensitive, and counter-productive. Worse, they will end the conversation when it most needs to be heard.
Instead, listen, express concern (in a non-judgemental way), and reassure the person you would like to help them in whatever way needed in that moment. This could mean not talking at all, but just being there, unafraid of the darkness spoken between you and residing in them. It could also mean reaching out to offer assistance in finding the right help and support.
Or, depending on the relationship and level of trust between you, it could mean creating a suicide safety plan together to help manage and make it through the vulnerable times.
The compulsion to act on suicidal thoughts waxes and wanes. It can often be delayed and that can make all the difference. What doesn’t make a difference is denying its existence or pretending the risk is not real.
Show compassion by saying you are sorry to hear this is what your loved one (or yourself, if that is the case) is facing. Acknowledge how much mental strength and courage it must take to carry this burden on top of dealing with injury recovery. Reaffirm that you want to help the person stay brave in the face of their greatest pain and such adversity as can arise following brain injury and throughout the personal injury claim process.
You are not alone in helping someone in suicidal crisis. There are many resources, several of which are absolutely free, available to assess, treat and intervene in dangerous times. Crisis lines, counselors, intervention programs and more are available to you, as well as to the person at risk for suicide.
You have the power to save a life. Even if it is your own.
If you or someone you know is suicidal, please contact a mental health professional or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Author’s Note: This post is dedicated to those who’ve worked so hard to keep me alive long enough to write it: Leland Clipperton, Dr. Clarkson, Dr. Yashpal, Dr. Holub, Dr. Berry, Tammy Lawless and Ron Folkes. Thank you all for the gift of your support.
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