If someone discloses that they are suicidal

Aug 20, 2020

Has a friend ever said "my life is just worthless"?

You may be strong and grounded and able to cope, and you may be able to offer support to others. You may have a friend, a client, a relative or a colleague who tells you that s/he is considering suicide. Let us consider this and how you might response to such a disclosure.

How do you respond?

  1. Take the disclosure very seriously. Do not try to cheer them up and ‘take them out of themselves’.
  2. Ask the direct question if s/he even obliquely mentions suicide, saying something like: “My life is just worthless”,“Sometimes I think that I just cannot go on”, “My family would be better without me”.The direct question you should ask is “Are you thinking of taking your own life?”
  3. If the answer is “No”, then you should listen empathetically to how s/he is feeling and notice and name the feelings s/he seems to be describing. Do not deny how s/he feels. For example, if s/he tells you s/he feels worthless and useless, do not tell them that s/he should not feel like that with their beautiful family, fantastic job, and gorgeous house. Accept that s/he feels like that and let them stay with those feelings and talk about them. You just listen.
  4. If the answer is “Yes, I have thought of suicide”. You should accept this calmly and hear the depth of the dark place s/he is in. You should then ask if s/he has a plan and let him talk about it if they have a plan. Again, you should give time and listen empathetically. It is important to respect how s/he feels and not to provide your own experience or answers.
  5. Having given time and space to allow for the discloser’s feelings to be unpacked, ask what options s/he thinks are available to him. Do not produce your own solutions – listen to the potential ways forward and encourage development of those ideas. However, it is important that someone who is suicidal seeks professional help and you should guide them to that conclusion if it is not emerging. Tell them you will support them as s/he moves along the journey to recovery.
  6. Make sure that you stay connected and arrange for your next meeting /conversation to support them as s/he takes the journey they have outlined. Contact them if you have not heard within the time you have agreed.
  7. Make sure you are supported yourself, as this kind of disclosure can be difficult for you.

 

CA Support has a confidential listening service. Feel free to get in touch if you need support during this time. We can be contacted by email at casupport@charteredaccountants.ie or call us on (353) 86 024 3294.

Article written for CA Support by Prof. Patricia Barker, Dip. Couns., MPhil, PhD, FCA