FEATURE — Spring has always been my favorite time of the year. Sunshine opens my days earlier and stays around a lot later. Spring ignites the senses. Winter doldrums slip away, boats appear in driveways, joggers are more noticeable and summer plans get underway.
With all these hopes for renewal, the thought of people feeling suicidal is the last thing on my mind, but for people suffering from chronic pain, various forms of depression, or grief from loss, spring can be a reminder that being happy is elusive.
Suffering people seek relief from the sadness and grief they feel. Those with depression hope that spring will lift their spirits and bring them feelings of energy and joy. Those who are grieving crave the the profoundly positive effects spring seems to have on their neighbors.
When spring doesn’t provide a boost of energy, heal the chronic pain or elevate the depressed mood, it can send those who are afflicted spiraling deeper into feelings of hopelessness.
Helplessness, deep sadness or relentless physical pain can drive a person to consider suicide. When someone you know is discouraged or depressed — even-suicidal — you can do some amazing things to help lift their despair and give them hope.
Help begins with opening your mouth and talking to them.
So many times, I hear people say they’ don’t want to make things worse for sad loved ones, so they avoid discussing the grief, sadness or pain their friend is feeling. Avoiding difficult subjects and hoping the issue will just go away is a large part of the problem.
I know all of you want to be helpful. You want to serve others. The only thing holding you back is the desire to “do it right.” I’ll give you some ideas, but mostly, I challenge you to simply dive in, be bold, listen empathically and ask good, open-ended questions.
If a person hints at being suicidal or if you know they are suicidal, it is okay to be direct and ask about it. Ask: Are suicidal thoughts persistent? Is there a suicidal plan? Have items been gathered to carry out a suicide plan?
If your friend or loved one is suicidal, they need to talk about it. Don’t be afraid you will make it worse by asking. When your friend or loved one begins to talk about their suicidal thoughts, your task is to listen with empathy. You can help a suicidal person if you provide time for them to discuss the problems they face, knowing you’re not going to shut them down when it gets “real and scary.”
One final thought for those of you who have had a friend or loved one disclose suicidal thoughts or plans: Don’t handle this information alone. Always get a team of loved ones involved. If you promised to keep another person’s suicidal thoughts a secret, don’t do it. Break that promise.
Suicidal people need a team — not just you carrying a secret this big all alone.
Written by MATT ESCHLER, Ph.D, LMFT, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
This article was first published in St. George Health and Wellness magazine.
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