Suicide Alertness for Everyone
TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains information about suicide. If you are currently struggling, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or contact your doctor.
For a long time I’ve wanted a little more structured training in this regard and was so glad to hear about safeTALK. If you’re interested in taking a class, the AFSP WA Chapter will be hosting more in our state throughout the year (Follow them on Facebook, Twitter you can register to receive email updates from the AFSP WA web site), and LivingWork.net also provides a link to help find other training sessions around the country.
Being in this room for safeTALK was both stressful and empowering, as I knew it would be. On the way down, I heard Sarah McLachlan’s song “Angel” on the radio and it touched me so deeply. I hadn’t heard it in forever but it truly made me think of my darling friend Dina who we lost to suicide 2 1/2 years ago. I knew in that moment, I was absolutely doing the right thing, stressful or not, by going to this session.
I want to be suicide alert even though its uncomfortable…and even painful at times.
Why? Because according to research, at any given moment 1 in 20 people are thinking about suicide. That’s 5 percent of the population who are struggling right now and wondering if life is worth living. And each of those 1 in 20 has a chance of living, in fact, a good chance if more of us are aware and willing to speak up and ask the hard question: “Are you thinking about suicide?”
Please Note: The below is an overview of what I learned this weekend at safeTALK. Please know this is not all inclusive. A lot of information and personal experience was shared. And I am not a medical professional in any way. I am also not here to place blame on those who have lost a loved one to suicide and wasn’t able to help them. I am one of you. So I understand the guilt. I just believe that knowledge, even in hindsight, is power for the future. If you would like additional information and training please consider seeking out a safeTALK near you.
Here’s the reality. Thoughts of suicide can’t always be prevented. There is a lot of pain in the world and sometimes people just want to stop that pain. Those thoughts enter some people’s heads seemingly at random, and can at some point become overwhelming.
But just because people have the thoughts, it DOES NOT mean that they actually want to die.
While the thoughts can’t be prevented, acts of suicide CAN. Most people with suicidal ideation have doubts. They would much rather get help to stay alive and end their pain in a better way. Through medical treatment or therapy or a healthier diet or lifestyle or loving support from friends and family,or all of the above.
So, its important to know that people who have thoughts of suicide often find ways to “invite help” from others. (Not always, but many do.) These “invitations” may not be obvious if we aren’t alert to suicide. And of course even if we are alert, we are also human and can’t possibly help everyone (even though I would love to.) But the more alert we are, the more people we can hopefully help.
So the BIG questions are…
How can we be more alert to suicide?
By paying attention to others around us, and:
#1 Their Actions: Are they careless? Spending all their money unexpectedly? Are they moody? Withdrawing? Misusing alcohol or drugs? Are they giving away possessions?
#2 Their Talk/Verbal Communication: Do they often talk of feeling alone or a burden to others? Do they say their life has no purpose? Do they talk of escape?
#3 Our own sense of the person: Do they seem or feel desperate, hopeless, numb or ashamed?
#4 Their life situations: Are they victims of abuse? Have a lived through a recent rejection or loss? Have they discovered a chronic or life-threatening illness? Have they recently lost someone they loved to suicide?
By asking them DIRECTLY. “Are you thinking of suicide?” OR “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
Its important to add, that using the actual words “suicide” or “killing yourself” is very important here. You must be specific. If you say “Are you thinking of harming yourself?” you may not get an accurate response.
To add to the above, you may also explain why you’re asking this question (possibly out of the blue). For example, “Hi Joe, sometimes when people are missing work and withdrawing from friends while going through a painful divorce they might start thinking about suicide. Are you thinking about killing yourself?” This type of questioning might ease the discussion and make the person feel as though you really are paying attention. That you do in fact care about them and their unique situation and pain. It also might help them feel like they’re not “crazy” for having these thoughts, and perhaps will be more willing to open up to you.
OK, so what do we do if that person says YES, they ARE having suicidal thoughts?
#1 Our job is to listen. Not tell them or convince them why they should want to live. Just listen to their pain, long enough for them to feel heard, understood and LOVED.
#2 Do not promise to keep this a secret. Let them know that you have to speak to others who can help them. “I have to do this. I don’t want to risk the chance of losing you.” You might ask them if there is anyone they wish to share this with, such as a therapist or current doctor. You might suggest taking them to see that person yourself. Staying with them until they are safe.
#3 Keep them safe of any means. If they tell you that they planned to take pills or use a gun and have those items readily at home, safely remove these items or call someone (like the police) who can.
#4 Understand that it is not your job to save their life. It is your job/my job to get them to someone who can help them save their own lives. I don’t know about you. I am not a trained therapist. I am not a doctor. But I CAN help them find one. First step, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline together (or for them if necessary) 800-273-TALK (8255). This number is for any crisis and will direct you to LOCAL resources available to you and your loved one.
A few last thoughts about my safeTALK experience.
I learned that no matter if this is the first or 10th time this person has come forward with thoughts of suicide, don’t dismiss or avoid the topic. Even if you think they are “crying wolf” or only seeking attention, you just never know. Regardless, this person is in pain and needs help.
I also learned that saying the word “suicide” or bringing it up to someone who is not suicidal, WILL NOT plant the idea in their head.
And lastly, the most important skills for being alert to suicide is calm patience and persistence. This is the time to intrude! You just might save a life. And that is worth all the stress in the world.
Thank you so much to the AFSP for sponsoring this training. It was free of charge to participants using funds from previous fundraising efforts by the AFSP for suicide prevention. This is EXACTLY one of the reasons why I raise funds for this invaluable organization. The walks I’ve done and fundraising I’ve done are not going to waste. They are saving lives. And I truly believe I can too, and so can you.
If you’d like to donate to my Overnight Walk you can do so in the left sidebar or HERE.
Please let me know your thoughts. And if you ever end up attending safeTALK or find other suicide prevention classes, I’d love to hear about them.
Also,wanted to share the video for “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan. I dedicate this to Dina and all loved ones lost too soon to suicide.