Dealing with one suicide is almost impossibly difficult. But three suicides in one small town? In less than a year? What are you supposed to do in the face of that? If you live and minister in a town rocked by this kind of pain and loss, how do you respond? What do you do?
Those are the kinds of questions that one of our readers submitted as she wrestled with this very situation. And, since suicide is generally one of the top three killers of young people in America, we all need to increase our awareness about warning signs and steps needed to preserve life. So, we’re going to offer a few posts dealing with suicide. And, in the first, Dr. Kay Bruce answers eight questions you might have about responding to someone who is thinking about committing suicide.
1. What should I do if I think someone is considering suicide?
Ask. An irony in our culture is that a majority of movies and many television shows have references to suicide, some even include graphic scenes. But to ask someone if they are thinking about suicide seems too personal and intense. Yet, think about it. If you were considering ending your own life, wouldn’t you want to talk with someone about that decision?
One of the best ways to prevent suicide is by making it safe for a person in despair to talk about their feelings and to connect them with helpful resources. Ask the question, “Are you hurting so much that you are thinking about suicide?” It’s a simple question, but it can make a huge difference.
2. How do you know when to ask about suicide?
If you are concerned about someone, if they seem depressed, in despair, or if you notice any of the following risk factors, don’t wait. Ask the question!
- Persistent sadness or depression
- Uncharacteristic irritability
- A strong sense of failure
- Major conflict with family
- A recent major loss of a loved one, friend, parent, or mentor–especially if by suicide
- A recent experience of significant humiliation or shame
- A breakup of a significant friendship or close relationship
- Withdrawal, alienation, or loneliness
- Comments about others being better off without them or not wanting to live
- Increased alcohol consumption or drug use
3. What should I do if someone tells me that they are contemplating suicide?
Do not wait. Immediately communicate how much you care about him/her and connect them to resources:
- Call a crisis line (1-800-273-TALK or 911.)
- Go online to http://www.yspp.org/ or to http://www.suicidology.org
- Download the free book “The Forever Decision” at http://www.qprinstitute.com
- If the risk is high, call 911 or help them to go to a hospital emergency room
- Schedule an appointment with a professional counselor
- Create a group of safe, caring people and stay in close contact with them during the crisis
- Ask the person to agree to safety and sobriety until they get help
- Remove any guns, knives, drugs, pills, or other lethal means
- Plan a time to get together again soon, within the next few days
4. Will asking the question make them more likely to commit suicide?
No. Suicide is so prevalent in our culture that this will not be a new idea. You are more likely to get an honest answer if you ask the question openly and directly.
5. Should I wait until I know for sure that the person is struggling?
No. If you are concerned, ask the question. It is better to ask now then to regret later.
6. Is faith the answer to the problem?
Our faith in God is a source of great peace in the midst of our most trying circumstances. But, when someone is experiencing great pain, they may be angry with God, feel guilty about a lack of faith, or believe that God has abandoned them or does not care about them. It is important to listen to what resources are helpful to the person in the moment. Praying with them or connecting them with a pastor may be a source of great help, but it can also add to the problem if the person is already feeling guilty or distressed about their faith. (Even as recorded in the Bible, people of great faith sometimes struggled with wanting to live—see 1 Kings 19:4 and God’s response of giving Elijah food and rest.)
The power of the gospel is definitely the ultimate answer to their problem. But, in the moment of crisis, you need to exercise discernment. Listening to their story, hearing the sources of pain, and responding in a way that makes the person feel safe is important. Helping someone to stay alive in the moment makes it possible for a gradual restoration or building of their faith over time in the months or years to come.
7. Is there help for the family members or friends who are grieving the loss of someone by suicide?
- Agree to help each other be honest about our struggles to prevent further suicide
- Go online to http://www.afsp.org/
- Assist them to join a support group with other survivors of suicide
- Help them seek a trusted pastor, counselor, or friend to talk about the pain
- Ask about stories and memories of their loved one—it helps to remember and tell even through tears
8. How can I get more information about suicide intervention?
There are many sources of good information
- Websites: listed above
Bruce, K.C. (2010). Suicide. In B. Hislop (Ed.), Shepherding women in pain (pp. 193-207). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
Hsu, A. Y. (2002). Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers & Hope. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press
Quinnett, P. G. (2009). Counseling Suicidal People. Spokane, WA: The QPR Institute (Available at http://www.qprinstitute.com)
- Suicide Prevention Workshops: at Western Seminary, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Crisis Lines: 1-800-273-TALK or 911.
Stop the pain–care enough to ask the question and seek help!
About Kay Bruce
Kay is a Professor of Counseling at Western Seminary where she is also the director of Western’s Master of Arts in Counseling. Kay has been teaching and practicing counseling in the northwest for many years, and she has a passion for training the next generation of Christian counselors.