before judging… walk a moment in their shoes
If you’re the one… the person that has been chosen… to disclose to… to open up to… and you’re not prepared or worse you do what’s in the what not to do list (below), then you need to be prepared.
Especially if you’re an approachable person, a trust worthy person… because you will likely have this experience at some point in your life… and that’s a good thing…
It’s a great thing!
It means you can make a difference… in this life and death moment.
What to do
Read this first…
No I mean listen… deeply, authentically and without judgement.
Acknowledge that right at this moment suicide is one of the options that this person is considering… out loud and to them!
It’s not up to you to rule it out, it’s your role to help them to rule it out… at least at this point in their life. So it needs to be on the table out in the open.
The best way to do that is to listen… help them by feeding back what you’re hearing and identify all the emotions they are experiencing.
Take a moment to walk in their shoes. Literally put yourself in their life and walk along side of them for this moment and describe what you see, hear and think about how they view it.
Calm their inner stormy thoughts by acknowledging the whole story they have going on… even if you don’t buy into it, or think they’ve missed some logic.
It’s important that you walk along side of them and they feel heard and validated… then when it feels like you have enough of that story you need to talk about their plans.
Do they have a plan?
Do they have the means?
Have they taken steps to collect together what they need to commit suicide?
The closer they are to actually committing suicide, the calmer you need to be and the more empathy you need to show… because it’s taken them a lot to get right where they are.
You need to calm that inner storm down (yours and theirs) by totally focusing on this moment and listening and feeding it back to them over and over before you throw any logic into the conversation.
Using logic on an emotional person who’s considering committing suicide is like mixing oil and water – it just doesn’t penetrate!
You need to acknowledge their pain and emotion first and wait for them emotions to abate, soften or release (through tears).
You’ll know when this happens, their voice becomes calmer, their body more relaxed and the story they have told themselves has taken on less of a black and white feel to it.
It’s at this point that you can then explore other (preferable) options with them.
“Putting aside, just for a moment, the option of ending your life… what other options are available to you?”
You need to help them explore ALL options… and all consequences for all of the options on the table.
Because suicidal people are not weak, they are in fact incredibly strong… it’s just that their thinking has become narrow… black and white… and they miss the bigger picture.
They haven’t been able to think all options through.
It’s our job to help them do that… they’ve come to you for help!
You’re their brains trust right at this moment… so help them find another way… they actually want that!
Help them find a way out!
If there is no other way… and sometimes that could be the reality for them right at this moment, we need to help them find the courage to wait until another way is revealed to them.
So we need to ask them if we can help them find a safe place until that is found.
We need to seek their agreement that we create that safe place, that we let the right people know so they can step into the situation and help right now.
Don’t go too early on this last part. Explore every option first… because this builds trust.
You are literally talking them down, off the edge, so we need to calm them down first and we do that by connecting
by deeply listening to them
by validating emotions and thoughts and
by empathising… agreeing that life is really shit right now and it seems like there’s no other option.
But lets see if that’s true first before we take that drastic step.
When you have their agreement to open this discussion up to others, then act on it.
Call the closest mental health unit or the Police and explain the situation.
Call their partner/family/parent (with their permission).
Work out what the next steps are…
Perhaps they need help with connecting to their doctor, therapist or mentor in their life. Just do it.. but do it with them and not without their permission.
We want to help them off the ledge and also into the arms of people who know how to help them further.
You can do that.
What not to do
Read this second
Don’t panic and
Don’t guilt trip!
If you are in a situation where someone has had enough trust in you to open up about their thoughts of suicide then you are in a trusted position. So any of the above will make you instantly untrustworthy and they will withdraw from you and you’ll be left wondering… will they?
Judging often comes in the form of criticism or contempt. By criticising, name calling or making them feel inadequate for feeling as they do you increase the level of shame and pressure inside of a person already in pain. Using sarcasm or even using a defensive approach, (to try and get them to see your life as worse than theirs), shows you are not willing to… for even a moment… be there, in this moment, with them… to share the burden.. to experience their pain.
They will withdraw from you, or brush it off and again… you will be leaving the risk of them committing suicide possible.
Guilt doesn’t work either. Using guilt against them in the hopes that they will not do it for the sake of someone else often fails because many times they actual believe that their loved ones will be better off without them.
Making a joke out of what they say sends a message that you don’t take them seriously or that you don’t care enough to check out what they are saying has any depth of truth to it. So even if they say it jokingly, especially if they have been going through a rough spot, check in with them. Ask them if they are OK.
All of the above is a response to your inner fear… You feel that fear inside and wonder what you can do, if anything…
Often we resort to some of the above as a reflex to that fear, so even if you do that, you can still recover from your mistake however their response is likely to brush it off, pretend they are joking about it to get away from the conversation as fast as they can.
Take a big breathe in and out…
Do it again (breathe that is).
Then ask them… are you OK?
Apologise for your response and acknowledge that they are having a rough journey at the moment. Start the conversation and follow the “What to do” list above.
Lastly, when the danger has passed and they are OK, just check in to make sure you’re OK too! It’s a big emotional experience when it happens. One you’ll never forget.
So check in with a buddy, debrief with a friend… ask them just to listen, not judge and to help you by acknowledging your experience.
Well done you.