Tuesday, 13 October 2015

5 Ways to Show Support When a Friend’s Loved One Attempts Suicide

A friend just told you that their loved one tried to attempt suicide.  How does one react to this information?

Be there.

Be there for the person who just told you this information by being fully present with them. See, for every person who is struggling with mental illness, they have loved ones who care for and about them.  Mental illness and suicide are stigmatized. Partly because people believe it is a choice or because they think it is selfish.  

Just as the person who has a mental illness struggles with guilt, shame and fear of being judged, so do the loved ones.  They too may be fearful to tell or speak openly about their loved ones mental health.  In addition to being fearful of being judged, stigma, shame, and guilt, they may feel like it isn’t their story to tell.  So if someone is sharing this information with you, please know that they value your support and friendship.  They need you to be there.  They do not need you to fix it or say the right thing.  

Just be there

Listen to them

Talk to them

Just as every person with mental illness has their story and is needing understanding and empathy from their loved ones; loved ones are asking for the same from you.  Please be empathetic.  Know that their story is different than their mothers, brothers or other family members and friends.  It impacts them differently, as their relationship is different with their loved one.

Here are some practical things to know about attempted suicide/suicide and the mental health system (this is not an exhausted list and is meant to help you understand some of the situation so that you can be supportive).  If you would like more information or warning signs please click here.

  • Not everyone is hospitalised.  Hospitalisation is not indicative of the severity of someone’s mental illness.
  • A suicide attempt does not necessarily mean someone was depressed.  For example, someone may suffer from a psychotic break up and make an attempt.  An overdose does not always mean someone was attempting to hurt themselves.  No matter what the situation, provide empathy.  Each situation is different and each deserves the same respect and understanding.
  • Navigating the mental health system can be very difficult and tiresome.

Here are some tips that can help you support your friend:

1. Ask questions.

If the person is comfortable, ask questions. Do so because you want to understand and provide empathy, not out of curiosity. This actually may be a nice change for the loved one. Because the topic of mental illness can make people feel uncomfortable, some might respond with silence, change the subject or offer a hurried statement. If you don’t understand something, ask. It’s better to fully understand than to make assumptions.

2. Don’t assume your friend can tell you what he or she needs.

Don’t assume your friend knows what they need. In times of stress, it’s common not to know. If they’re sharing with you, most likely they just need you to listen.

3. Offer practical help.

Offer/do practical things for your friend. Offer to babysit, bring groceries or bring dinner. Any of those things can be helpful. If someone is hospitalized, visiting hours are often in the evening, so things such as meals and childcare can be important.

4. Encourage self-care.

Remind your friend to engage in self-care. Offer to go to the movies, meet for coffee or go on a walk with them. Friends and family of those with mental illness need to manage their own stress as well.

5. Check in.

Check in with your friend periodically about their loved one. One reason that mental illness is so isolating is because people don’t talk about it. While it can be uncomfortable for both the person struggling and the family, it’s uncomfortable for them not to talk about it, too. They’ll appreciate knowing that you care enough to check in.

If you or someone you love is in mental health crisis (UK), please contact the
Samaritans on 116 123.

Opening times: 24 hours, 7 days a week
Website: www.samaritans.org

or see our Resources page on our website: www.prevent-suicide.org.uk

Download the free #StayAlive Suicide Prevention App: find out more here.

This blog post was adapted from The Mighty, originally appeared on the JLF Counseling Services blog, written by Jessica Fowler, LCSW.

Please note that this information is provided for informational and educational purposes only.


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