How do you feel about discussing the topic of suicide?
Sadly, most people struggle with the topic of suicide. Our society is anti-suicide because they not only lack knowledge about it, but would rather focus on more positive topics. But that’s exactly the reason why these same people are shocked when a family member, friend, colleague, or other close person mentions the topic or completes a suicide.
This article will focus on some of the questions people may ask someone considering suicide that may trigger negative feelings and thoughts. I will also attach a link to my webinar on things parents and families can do to support their child or teen having suicidal thoughts.
*TRIGGER WARNING: If you are triggered by the topics mentioned in this article, I encourage you to take a break from reading this article and reach out to someone you trust to process your feelings and thoughts. If you need crisis support, please contact: 1-800-suicide.
Last week I discussed 5 Suicide Warning Signs which focused on warning signs that someone may be considering suicide. That article gained a lot more comments and people sharing personal stories than I thought it would gain. As a result, I decided to keep the conversation going. Sadly, the topic of suicide has become so taboo in our society that the topic remains buried beneath other, less important topics. But for adolescents in today’s society, the topic is no longer taboo for them. In fact, most teens talk openly with each other about the topic more so than they do with their parents. This means that the adults in their lives must broach the topic. This is exactly my goal in today’s article.
I have learned over time that most people considering suicide are delicate and we must be careful about how we approach the topic, judge the situation, and offer suggestions or comments meant to be supportive. Some comments, suggestions, or questions can do more harm than good.
The following are examples of statements and questions that I have heard suicidal clients complain about in the past:
- “You have so much to be thankful for:” The last thing someone who is considering suicide wants to hear is “but look at all the things you have….” When you are hurting and want the emotional, psychological, and some times physical pain to stop, you look for a way to end it. As stated in the last article, for many people they bury their pain in drinking, using drugs, gambling, sexual promiscuity, etc. For some people, suicide is less harmful and painful. It isn’t the best option but we cannot blame anyone for considering it. To minimize the problem by making the above statement, the person can actually encourage suicide as the more isolated the person feels, the more suicide becomes the best option.
- “Why would you ever consider such a thing?” In some cases when a person reports or shares that they are considering suicide or have thought of ending their own life it can make the communication feel strained or strange because of the automatic emotions such a statement can trigger. As a result, there are some people who will ask questions or make statements that really just don’t help. “Why would you ever consider such a thing?” may be a question posed by someone disconnected from their own emotions or afraid of feeling negative or uncomfortable feelings. For example, an immature, distant, and emotionally unstable parent may ask their child a similar question in a disinterested fashion.
- “Did you know only weak people think of suicide?” I once had a 50 year old client who shared his suicidal thoughts in a group therapy session focused on disclosure and building rapport between the members and I. My client, who was being seen by me as I interned for an agency focused on rehabilitation of the severely mentally ill, decided to share his deepest thoughts about suicide which included how he would stage his death, kill himself, and then “rest eternally.” A group member, who displayed avoidant and narcissistic traits, decided that was the time to say “did you know only weak people think of suicide?” That was my client’s final day of group therapy and refused to return.
- “You’re unstable right now. Do you think you need help?” How difficult would it be for you to accept someone making this statement to you? Would you get angry, even more depressed, and discouraged? Or would you accept this statement as supportive and caring? Depending on how the person would pose this question to you would determine how you would respond. A change in tone of voice, attitude, or mood can make all the difference.
- “You should never mention suicide. That is depressing:” An adult making this statement would really concern me. But I have heard teenagers post this kind of statement in a joking fashion to a friend or sibling in my office. For teens, this statement doesn’t seem as offensive or triggering. However, for adults, this statement would be reckless, uncaring, and immature to say the least.
- “Don’t think like that:” In some cases where families remain secretive, emotionally distant when it comes to deep emotions or challenges, and dismissive or permissive, statements like this are very likely to occur. In fact, in homes where abuse and trauma exist, these statements are likely to occur, especially if the home climate encourages internalized emotions.
- “Get over it:” Believe it or not, in some cases, when an individual opens up about their suicidal thoughts and plans the listener may insinuate or subliminally state that the person should “get over” or “move on” past that painful thing/situation/experience that is making them feels suicidal. This is easier said than done in many cases and a person saying “get over it” is likely to push the individual to consider suicide as the best option available to them. Feeling misunderstood, unloved, or dismissed are often the very emotions that trigger suicidal thinking.
- “Grow up:” I have heard family members make this statements during intense family sessions in which the person, or identified patient, is struggling with suicidal thoughts. The session began to resemble an “intervention meeting” in which the family members challenge their loved one to “grow up” or “get serious about treatment.” These kind of statements do more harm than good. Again, these kind of statements often “push” suicidal individuals more toward suicide as the sufferer begins to feel unheard, burdened, and beat up on. There are kinder and gentler ways to coerce someone to mature and make more sound decisions. A statement such as: “I see you are struggling at this time and anyone in your shoes would. I just believe that if you continue to hold on that you will find peace. It may not feel this way now, but with maturity comes peace and understanding.”
- “You are trying to manipulate others:” It is true that some individuals use suicidal gestures, attempts, and statements to control others, primarily those they are in a personal relationship with (i.e., marriage, family, co-worker, etc). Some individuals with borderline personality traits will sometimes use suicide to control others and get their emotional needs met. Some adolescents will use suicide to manipulate or control as well, especially when they do not get their way or is being asked to meet a specific expectation.
- “Stop acting this way:” I have heard parents speak to their child, teen, or even spouse this way. There is a degree of denial and fear within this statement. “Stop acting this way” may be a statement a family member uses if they observe their loved one struggling with symptoms. For example, I have heard parents tell a 15 year old teen to “stop acting this way” because “we did not raise you this way.” Suicidal thoughts have very little to do with how one was raised and more to do with an illness that needs treatment.
To watch my webinar on ways to help youngster’s who are suicidal, visit my website by clicking here.
What have people said to you or someone you know? Was the statement or question offensive and triggering?
As always, looking forward to interacting with you.
All the best
- Did you know there are no assessment scales or evaluation methods that can predict who will and who will not commit suicide? Did you know most assessment scales or evaluation methods attempt to identify symptoms of mental illness that can highlight possible red flags that someone is thinking about suicide? Sadly, the real determining factor that someone is thinking about suicide is if they decide to share it.
- There is little to no valuate at all to the suicide contract. A few studies suggest that the only use for a suicide contract between a client and therapist is for purposes of soothing the mind of the therapist ONLY. A lot of clients with a history of suicidal thoughts have become “experienced” in evading professionals searching for information. Other clients placate the therapist and sign the contract but continue with their thoughts and plans to end their life.
- From my personal experience, I have learned that many clients will deny suicidal thoughts if asked directly about them. Therapists and other mental health professionals should not assume the client is telling them the truth if the client has a history of repeated suicidal thoughts and attempts. Assessment should continue for as long as the client sees the mental health professional.
- Trying to dissuade someone from considering suicide may work against you. The best approach is to be empathic, caring, compassionate, and supportive.