Caring for someone through suicidal crisis

The reflections shared in this piece are those of people who have cared for, loved and supported people through suicidal crisis and the people that have been cared for, during a time of immense ‘psychache’, when suicide seemed like a very viable option to them to escape their emotional pain.

Everything within this resource is a direct quote from someone who has walked in the shoes of suicide. We have a lived experience and we hope our experience can provide some insights, helpful suggestions and comfort to you.

A different perspective on suicide

Many people who have been suicidal have expressed a very different perspective to suicide than most people ever consider. It can be challenging to hear it if you have not experienced suicidal crisis personally. We believe it is an incredibly important insight though and one that may take quite some time to come to terms with.

“Suicide will always be an option, even a comforting one at times and that is something that carers (family and friends too) and health care professionals have difficulty in getting their heads around, but it has certainly helped me through many a dark night.”

Someone who is experiencing a suicidal crisis needs to be empowered to help them find themselves and solutions that are appropriate for them (I am still not sure how you do that as we are all individuals with differing resolutions.) Remember that suicide is, at its core, a crisis of self.  It may have been triggered by a recent event but more than likely has a history where one more grain of sand has been added to the pile and it begins to collapse.

It’s the little signs that carers need to be aware of. Human beings are very good at putting up facades – I know I am. Simply be there for them and listen without judgement.”

Caring for someone you love through suicidal crisis.

 Just be there

Don’t underestimate the power of just being there. Sometimes we get so uncomfortable when there is silence in a group. Your loved one is experiencing a painful internal battle and may struggle to think of anything else. Sometimes silence and company is just what they need.

Hold on to them with everything you’ve got – dig your fingernails in, and just never give up.

Encourage a way for your loved one to express themselves.

If they can’t talk about “what’s wrong”, don’t push it. Thoughts and feelings of suicide can be really hard to talk about. Finding the right word to explain why you want to die is often impossible. That being said, encourage your loved one to find ways of expressing their pain. These could be art, diary writing, singing, anything that provides an outlet to get the hard feelings out. By encouraging them to express themselves, they also begin to understand what it is that they are feeling and can learn how to overcome it. Everyone is different. I personally found that diary writing helps to get the thoughts out but in caring for my partner, he would write pros and cons of different challenges that he faced in order to reduce how overwhelming they felt to him.

Be patient.

Don’t expect the feelings to go away overnight. Recovery can be a long and arduous process and it is different for everyone.

Sometimes you will fight with them. They may make poor decisions that make them slide backwards and it is so painful to watch a backwards slide. Try to stay with them through these times. Give them the dignity of choice but encourage them to choose better options.

Jumping to solutions is not the answer they need. They just need to be allowed to ‘be’ and accept that they are feeling these things. Solutions dismiss the pain and sadness they are feeling, suggesting that is can be easily fixed. They can’t see the fix just at that moment.

Celebrate recovery wins.

Note the progress they have made and genuinely congratulate them. Small wins are just as important as big ones. Things like going to work despite depression, choosing not to drink alcohol because of the way it changes their mood, getting in touch with old friends and avoiding friends who are a trigger might seem small, but they are huge to someone who is suicidal.

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Looking after you.

Supporting someone who is suicidal is very exhausting. It can be more that exhausting – it can be debilitating.

Get support.

The constant worrying and panic at leaving your loved one alone wears you out. Talking to others about what is going on not only feels good, but you will start to build up a group around you who can be trusted to be there for you. Not all people you talk to will be supportive. Suicide is a hard topic for some to talk about or listen to but talking to multiple people around you will mean that you can find those who are confident to sit with you during the caring period.

Support can come informally, through friends and family, supportive work colleagues and also come formally through medical professionals, a counsellor or psychologist, suicide support services (like Standby Response, Lifeline) and your work may have an Employee Assistance Program that you can access.

However, you need to find the right support and be prepared to say – No this is not working for me/us – this is not in the best interests of myself or the person that I am caring for.

Carers need to be gentle on themselves – knowing that you do not have the answers to help a loved one through a crisis is difficult to accept (if not almost impossible). It can be an extremely lonely and isolating experience for some (depending on cultural or social cultural attitudes) so relevant and appropriate community support should be encouraged.

Permission granted to take care of YOU.

Give yourself permission to take care of yourself – a moment of respite, an hour when you do something just for you, an afternoon where you decide to think about something else.  Easier said than done, but it helps.

  • Eat well – you probably won’t feel like eating, so choose what you eat carefully. Nutrient rich, small portions.
  • Stay hydrated – our bodies, our brains, need water to function well.
  • Sleep – try to get sleep when you can. If you can’t sleep, rest.  It is absolutely exhausting caring for someone who is suicidal – you are living a nightmare rollercoaster, with adrenalin and cortisol flooding your system, and you are ‘on’ 24/7.

Change triggers regularly.

It is amazing how quickly our bodies can become sensitive to the sound of a text message alert, the ringtone on your phone . . .  when it is often associated with bad news, stressful conversations. We can begin to experience physical reactions to these sounds – tensing muscles, a drop in your stomach, sweating, nausea. Changing these triggering sounds can give you respite from these symptoms. Be prepared to have to change them more than once depending on how extended the period of time is that you are on high alert.

No room for blame.

Don’t blame yourself for the way your loved one is feeling. Feelings are personal states of being and although others have sway over the way we feel, it is not your fault that your loved one is suicidal. We all play a role in the way others feel and we can help to alter their feelings, but we are not 100% responsible. The old saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” is very apt here. You can do all the right things and try very hard to make your loved one feel better, but they have to work towards it too.

 

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Are you ready to be involved in suicide prevention?

Many people are drawn to “do something” with their lived experience of suicide. Whether you live with your own suicidal ideation, have made an attempt on your life, cared for a loved one through a suicidal crisis or have been bereaved through suicide, the insights and wisdom gained through that experience does have the power to positively impact suicide prevention and potentially save a life.

Having a lived experience of suicide can change us quite profoundly. For some, it can leave them feeling devastated and confused about what it means to them, while for others it is a time to reflect on life and its value. Finding the balance between being able to think constructively about your experience and managing the overwhelming emotions is tricky, and the thought of feeling vulnerable is daunting for some.

There may come a time when you feel that you would like to contribute in some way to suicide prevention. You may not be sure of what your role might be, what it might mean to you both emotionally and mentally, and what the implications are for your family and friends. But we can assure you that sharing your lived experience, when done appropriately and with purpose, is a powerful tool for changing attitudes and opinions, furthering education about suicide prevention, raising awareness and leaving lasting impressions.

Of course, the most important consideration is that you are ready, and that your involvement is a rewarding and positive experience. It is without question difficult to talk about suicide when it has and does impact your life so profoundly, and our feelings can change over time and vary depending on the time of year and significant dates. It’s important to realise that being involved in suicide prevention does not mean 365 days a year, you are able to choose the nature and frequency of your involvement.

We hope that working through this document will help you clarify your thoughts about becoming involved in suicide prevention, and if you decide to take that step, then Roses in the Ocean is able to provide you with training and support to assist you.

Has it been enough time?

The more we work with people with a lived experience of suicide, the more it becomes apparent that time is different for all and there is no rule book to follow on what is the right time to get involved after your experience. For some people, they are ready to become involved just months after their lived experience, while for others it can take years.

The most important consideration is your personal level of vulnerability, the scaffolding of support you have in place, and your self-care rituals. Levels of vulnerability can change over time as suicidality and grief may resurface and when this happens, it is important to know that stepping back and withdrawing from suicide prevention activities at that time is the right thing to do.

If you believe you are ready, we will happily discuss with you in more detail what it is like to be involved, and this will help contribute to your final decision. Remember, your involvement needs to be the right thing at the right time for you.

Here are some things to consider:

  • What impact has talking about your lived experience of suicide had on you mentally, emotionally, physically in recent times?
  • Are there particular times when you know you feel more vulnerable?
  • Are you aware of any particular words, conversations or anything else that can be emotional triggers for you?
  • What is your energy and drive like after you discuss your experience? Does it take time to recover or is it lessening as you talk more about it?
  • Are you able to speak about your experience with suicide without feeling teary, anxious, overwhelmed with grief or anger?
  • Have you spoken about your desire to become involved in suicide prevention with your own network of family and friends? If yes, reflect on those conversations and possible impacts. If no, what are your thoughts on doing so?

Why are you doing this?

It’s not always easy to identify your motivation for wanting to get involved in suicide prevention. You need to look inwards and perhaps discuss how you feel with a close family member or friend to help you. Try not to be critical or judgmental when working through your motivation, it’s your unique experience, so there is no set rule. Ask yourself “who is going to benefit from my involvement”? Usually you will find that you get a mix of yourself and your community benefiting from your involvement and that’s a very common outcome. Which motivation is the most important to you? Do you believe being involved in Suicide Prevention initiatives will meet your current motivation?

When becoming involved in suicide prevention, you must be prepared that people will have different perspectives on suicide. It’s a complex issue and no two experiences are the same for many different reasons. Those who have attempted suicide and those who are bereaved from suicide look at it from different perspectives and this can create strong emotions. Have you experienced differing views on suicide to your own? How have you reacted? Has your ability to see differing views changed as time has moved on?

What is the next step?

It’s extremely important to us that you understand it’s perfectly alright at any time, whether it’s during training, before you participate in your first suicide prevention initiative or speaking engagement, or at some point throughout your time playing a role in suicide prevention, that it’s ok to say that you need a break.

We understand this will be a tough call for you and we know part of your motivation for being involved is preventing others going through the same experience. We recognise you want good to come out of such a difficult experience and this might drive your determination to continue, however we must be cognisant about the impact your involvement is having on you and your loved ones.

Remember we are dealing with a complex issue and not just one person has the responsibility to stop it, we all do as a community.

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An unexpected gift

Many people across the globe have had to deal with massive changes to their daily lives since the coronavirus pandemic has taken hold and become a staple in the news cycle. Whether it’s through small changes such as no longer going into the office for work or giving a home haircut a try, through to bigger things such as tragically losing a family member to the virus or not being able to visit your elderly parents for the foreseeable future, the pandemic has had a massive effect on how we all live.

For me, the global pandemic has had a profound effect on my life in a way that I could never have predicted. In fact, this change is something that I never imagined would happen to me. Yet here it is, so strong and so visible that I cannot deny it any longer.

I now have a desire to live, a zest for life, a will to stay alive.

This is not normal for me. Many other people have a passion to live and my feelings of wanting to die are unusual to them. But for me, the option of not being around has always been present in my mind. Throughout my teenage years and through to my recent 30th birthday, I can’t remember a time when suicide was not on my mind in some shape or form.

I consider the world a horrific and challenging place to live, and the sadness that I feel and see play out on a daily basis cuts deep into my core. Being alive in this day and age has always seemed, to me, a huge uphill battle that was sometimes not worth fighting for. Ending my life was always on the table, and I often considered it a worthwhile alternative to having to suffer and watch others suffer.

Yet, as I sit curled up on my lounge and tune the remote to see the pandemic play its cruel game with the delicate lives of millions, I’ve been hearing a different broken record in my head. Watching the virus take people’s lives so fiercely and experiencing fear while performing simple daily activities such as picking up the mail and getting groceries, has caused an uptake in my anxiety level to the point where I’ve been feeling that I might burst into a million pieces. My skin has felt tight, my heart races to no end, and my muscles fold in on themselves like a boa constrictor. Throughout the past couple of weeks, I have experienced fear and anxiety stronger than I have ever felt before. But the driving factor to these fears?

I want to live; I’m afraid of not being around anymore.

So, while the coronavirus has caused many people immense pain and we are all suddenly realising that things we took for granted are indeed precious to us, I have been unexpectedly gifted with the desire to live. For someone who has been suicidal for as long as she can remember, this is an entirely new feeling. One which I can’t let slip past me unnoticed. Instead, I am leaning into these feelings, and the more I dive in, the more I see that this desire to live has always been around. In fact it’s been engrained into my instincts as a human being, yet I never had the clarity, or the time, or the reason, to uncover it. Previously, life was so hard that I couldn’t see what was bubbling underneath. Now, life stays just as difficult, but I know there is something under me that I can use as an anchor.

By no means am I thankful that the coronavirus has been the thing that has given me this gift. I wish none of this had happened, I wish we could get back the lives we have lost. Yet, I am doing my best to make lemonade from lemons.

Thus, as I sit here enveloped in deep sadness, fear, depression, and hopelessness for what the future may bring and what the world is experiencing, there is one thing that I can hold onto. I want to live, and because of this I am now ready to tackle these big and difficult emotions with a new perspective.

I am finally ready to let life in.

Bridget B