If you care for someone who has attempted suicide in the past or is at risk for a suicide attempts, you don’t have to feel alone in this. You may not be able to completely fix their problems or take away their pain. But what you can do is access appropriate supportive services for your loved one and for yourself. Here are some steps you could take to help a loved one who is showing suicidal behaviour:
1) If you feel ready and comfortable to, have an open conversation with your loved one about their experience. Ask your loved one directly: “Are you thinking about suicide?” “Are you planning to harm yourself?” Being direct is said to not cause a person who is not suicidal to become suicidal. Talking about it may help to reduce your loved one’s suicidal distress by creating a climate of openness and caring.
2) Listen to them without judgment or interruptions. You can help your loved one feel calmer and less alone simply by being willing to listen attentively and without bias.
3) Tell them directly that they are loved and that they are not a burden. Though it may seem obvious to us, sometimes the depression or hopelessness or helplessness may push our loved one towards believing otherwise. It always helps to remind them that they matter.
4) Reach out to a therapist, support group or a helpline service yourself to seek guidance on what you can do next. It is important to connect your loved one to any or all of these services that they may find most helpful.
5) Create a safety plan with your loved one. Check pages 7 and 9 of this PDF (External Link) for details on how you can go about doing this.
As a caregiver/ally, you become a part of a supportive team – that includes family members, friends, mental health professionals and other service providers – working together to help your loved one stay safe.