Suicide: Helping Someone Who is Struggling

Dr. John Townsend

June 22, 2018

The recent self-inflicted deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade have served as a sad reminder of the reality of suicide, not only among celebrities but also people we know and care about. Unfortunately, most of us know people who have killed themselves, and around 1% of people die in this way.

It is a complex issue, with many variables, such as isolation, failure, loss, substance issues, relationships, media and culture. However, there are things you can do that can help if you know someone who is struggling with suicidality thoughts or behaviors.

Get the facts.  First, get some information about suicide.  There is a ton of research on suicidality because it has become a major health issue. The more you know, the more you can help. Start with and Wikipedia, which can provide good data and resources for more information. Talk to a reputable therapist about it.

Understand the hopelessness. Often, a person will feel completely helpless and hopeless. They are experiencing a situation (a problem in relationships, family, emotions, finances, career or health) which is very painful and difficult, and yet they see nothing further they can do to change the difficulty (helplessness). This then leads them to think that their future will be no better than their present, and probably worse, which destroys positive thoughts about tomorrow (hopelessness). For people in this situation, they often feel that suicide is a rational step, in fact, the only step that makes sense. When you talk to a friend or family member who seems to be having severe difficulties, make sure you let them know you “get it” about the helplessness and hopelessness. It will help them feel not quite so alone and can help them to accept your help and suggestions as well.

Take it seriously.  We hear a great deal about attention-getting behavior and manipulative suicidal attempts.  These can happen, but still, always err on the side of caution. Even if a person is not actually suicidal, they could accidentally kill themselves with their risky behavior. If you hear them talk about wanting to take their lives, or if you see dangerous behavior, talk to them and point them to help: a therapist, doctor or hospital. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone about this, even if the struggling person wants you to keep it a secret. There is simply too much at stake.

About yourself. Finally, if you are having dark thoughts, feelings and behaviors, get help as soon as you can.  Many people have found healing and a good future when they find the right therapist and support system.

If you are struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.


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