*If you reached this page looking for immediate help to deal with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for assistance.
Ongoing Help for Someone Struggling with Thoughts of Suicide
Once you’re aware that someone you know is on the edge, the help shouldn’t stop after an initial heart-to-heart talk. It’s crucial that you become this person’s advocate, helping them through this tumultuous time in their life and ensuring they live to see the other side of it. Here are some important aspects of providing ongoing help and support:
Helping Suicidal Children & Teens
- Try to get teens into treatment
Encourage a child to get professional help. If it is not your own child, talk with the parents about the importance of taking this situation seriously. If you can, suggest someone you’ve seen, or suggest that you go along with them and enroll in sessions yourself. (If nothing else, you could spend a few sessions with a psychologist talking about how to best help someone who is suicidal.)
- Don’t let your guard down
Continue hypervigilance in the early stages of treatment. One study found that suicidal thoughts and attempts were 4-times more likely during the first 10-days of treatment than they were after 3 months. (TCCY, 2004) While therapy helps in the long term, in the initial phases it can represent another undesirable change for the adolescent or be perceived as proof that they are broken, and many antidepressants or antipsychotics administered can interact in strange ways that lead to suicide. So continue your vigilance, even as a youth enters treatment.
- Keep in constant contact with the teen
Call regularly to check in and see how they are doing. If it’s your own child, you should be asking this at least twice a day. Often people become suicidal in part because they assume that nobody cares or that their life isn’t worth anything. The more you can show them that you do indeed care, the less likely they are to commit suicide.
- The busier the youth, the better
Try to keep the child busy with activities. When teens become depressed, they tend to withdraw and lose energy for life, which only reinforces the cycle of depression. So if you know someone is struggling, invite them along whenever you go out to do something. Without being too pushy or too obnoxious, take it upon yourself to get this child involved in social activities and to expose them to experiences that might bring them joy.
- Develop ongoing interests
Look for ways to get a youth involved with sports or hobbies. Organized sports can be a big benefit, since they provide both social interaction and a rewarding activity at the same time. But if you can get a teen involved in a hobby, this is also of great benefit. Having at least one aspect of life that they can draw enjoyment from can often mean the difference between life and death.
- Address issues of hurt & criticism
Insecurity, ridicule, judgment, criticism – these are the feelings that incubate suicidal thoughts. These types of social pains are the most powerfully destructive emotions we feel, and every suicidal person is awash in these feelings.
Slaby & Garfinkel write about how important it is to convey to teenagers: “that they must let go of the hurt and move on. That should be their focus. Until they can put the pain behind them, they will continue to struggle with how to let it go. One of the most destructive forces interfering in the process of letting go is criticism. The criticism needn’t come from others; in its most potent form criticism comes from within. The teen’s punitive side has already judged him or her harshly for real and imagined wrongdoings. ‘I deserve to die’ is a phrase read too often in suicide notes. Teens who talk about their fear of criticism – from their parents or others – most fear their own harsh self-criticism. The suicidal adolescent is his or her own judge, jury, and executioner rolled into one.” (1994, p. 190)
This is a big topic that can’t be properly addressed here. (We recommend our e-book: The Psychology of Healing.) But here are a few quick tips:
- Share your own criticisms of yourself so that they understand that they’re not the only ones who feel inadequate at times.
- Give praise and compliments. Not in an obnoxious or apparent way, but look for ways to offer honest, genuine words of encouragement that might serve as a counterbalance to a person who often feels as though they can’t do anything right.
- Go out of your way to exhibit a non-judgmental attitude yourself, not just towards this person, but towards everyone and in your everyday life.