How To Support A Loved One If You Think They Are Suicidal

by | Sep 8, 2022 | Mental Health

Suicide convos. They’re scary. And difficult. And with South Africa ranking 10th in global suicide rates, according to a World Population Review study, it’s likely to be a conversation you can’t (and shouldn’t) ignore. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), there are 23 known cases of suicide a day in SA, and for every person that commits suicide, 10 have attempted it.

Abdurahmaan Kenny, Mental Health Portfolio Manager for Pharma Dynamics says knowing how to deal with and support someone who has attempted to take their own life is crucial for their recovery. “Your loved one may be depressed or suffer from another mental illness caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Therefore, it is essential for them to see a trained healthcare professional, who will be able to make a proper diagnosis and prescribe the right treatment, which often involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Recovery (with the right help) is possible,” he says.

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“When a loved one is affected, it can be traumatic as you need to support them, and deal with your own feelings about the suicide attempt – the anger, fear, shame and guilt. Saying and doing the right thing can be difficult.” Kenny shares the following advice of how to support a loved one during such a tenuous time.

What to say (conversation prompts):

– I’m sorry you’ve been feeling so awful. I’m so glad you’re still here.
– I’m here for you. Remember that you can always talk to me if you need to.
– I want to help you. Tell me what I can do to support you.

Various organisations, including Suicide Line (Australia) and Mental Health Foundation (NZ), advise the following ways of support:

– As much as possible, remove the means to suicide, including drugs and alcohol.
– Create a ‘safe space’ for the person to talk. Let the person know you will listen.
– Try to understand the feelings and perspective before exploring solutions together.
– Explore and develop realistic plans and solutions to deal with their emotional pain/ mental illness. For them to realise that suicide is not a solution, they will need to see real changes in their life. This will require making small steps in the beginning to change their situation.
– Get your loved one the professional support they need. You could offer to go with them or help them to make appointments.
– Enlist the help of other family and friends to assist you to support the person.
– Together with the person, consider writing a safety plan that details the steps they need to take, should they feel suicidal. This will make both of you feel more prepared and in control about the possibility of future suicidal thoughts.
– Support them to do the things they enjoy, keep physically active and connect with others.
– Help them restore balance in their life, e.g. reducing alcohol intake, doing some exercise or getting enough sleep.

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Here is a list of what not to say according to Suicide Line:

– Panicking: “This can’t be happening. I don’t know what to do – what do we do?”
– Name-calling: “You’re a real psycho.”
– Criticising: “That was such a stupid thing to do.”
– Preaching or lecturing: “You shouldn’t have done that; you should’ve asked for help.”
– Ignoring: “If I just pretend this didn’t happen, it’ll go away.”
– Abandoning the person: “I can’t take this; I have to leave.”
– Punishing the person: “I’m not talking to them until they straighten themselves out.”
– Dramatising: “This is the worst possible thing you could have done!”
– Simplifying things or using a ‘quick-fix’ approach: “You just need some medication, and then you’ll feel yourself again.”
– Showing anger: “I can’t believe you’d try that!”
– Making the person feel guilty or selfish: “How did you think this would make me feel?” or “How could you do this to me?”

If you are concerned that a loved one may be suicidal, or if you are having suicidal thoughts, contact Pharma Dynamics’ toll-free helpline on 0800 205 026, which is manned by trained counsellors who are on call from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.


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