Few people ever want to feel suicidal. That line of thought is a dark and terrifying place from which you feel you can’t escape. It truly feels like drowning in the ocean: there is no random island, there is no life raft, there are no life vests, and all you can see ahead is the bleak, empty horizon. In that situation, it would only seem logical to acknowledge that death is your only option. Trying to stay afloat would only mean prolonging the inevitable. It is despair so powerful and overwhelming that you can’t see beyond it.
What most people in that situation don’t see – or, more often, can’t see – is that there are life rafts available. The pain and despair that is happening in their mind blinds them to reality, which is that there are people who want to help them. People within their circle of trust, and professionals who are trained and desire to care, to bring them back from the brink, from stepping over the precipice from which there is no return.
What as a caregiver, as someone who cares for a person who is suicidal, can you do to assist?
- Recognize that a suicidal person’s inability to see their own worth is very, very real. Telling them that they have so much to live for and that they shouldn’t feel that way will not help, because in their mind, it very much is an immutable reality. Even if they know that there is help available, their despair can twist logic into thinking that those resources do not apply to their situation and would be of no help.
- Acknowledge that a suicidal person’s emotions are, in their mind, very real. Even if you feel there is no basis in reality for what someone is feeling, you must understand that to their brain, it is very much real and they are reacting to it.
- Create a proactive, not reactive environment that is safe for them, that will allow them to find the worth within themselves, rather than bombarding them with true but often ineffectual statements that they need to continue living. Examples of accomplishments, tangible examples of their impact upon others lives, etc, will assist in showing them their value.
Suicide and suicidal thoughts are real, true, and as life threatening as any illness. They need to be treated as such, and not as a person with imaginary problems, or as having a “phase” that will pass. Counseling, comfort, and a proactive approach to their problems are the best and most effective ways of counteracting the illness and pervasive thoughts that plague a person who is suffering from that state of mind.