How to support someone who might have suicidal thoughts
Meghan Markle’s revelation last year that she’d had suicidal thoughts and attempted to get help was a reminder that those feelings can affect anyone and that everyone needs support.
The Duchess of Sussex revealed to Oprah Winfrey that she was “ashamed” to admit how she felt to Prince Harry.
Dr. Munther Barakat, director of behavioral health therapy at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital in Wauwatosa, says you can help identify signs of emotional distress in your loved ones and friends by watching out for signs including loss of interest in activities, change in sleep or eating habits, decline in work or school performance and thoughts of death or “not being around.”
“People in crisis want to know that someone is available to listen,” Dr. Barakat says. “Lend an ear. Be supportive and not judgmental. Let them know that you’ve noticed the signs and just want to talk to see if ‘something is going on.’”
“Don’t make immediate recommendations before listening,” he says. “Stay calm and do more listening than talking. When discussing your concerns, only focus on facts and don’t blame or criticize. After discussing, don’t be afraid to ask if they’re having thoughts of harming themselves. It’s difficult to bring up but discussing it will not put the idea in someone’s head.”
Markle lives in the spotlight, even after she and Prince Harry decided to leave their royal roles. That can create a lot of pressure, but stress and distressing thoughts can affect anyone. The pandemic and lost social interactions have had big implications for mental health.
“These thoughts are not in themselves abnormal but become abnormal when they begin to see suicide as a solution,” Dr. Barakat says. “If they begin to think this way, they need immediate attention. Taking them to a local ER can get the process started to get them professional help. Do not leave them alone if you believe they will harm themselves. If they won’t seek help and they’re suicidal, call 911.”
You or your loved one also can call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
“Don’t worry about damaging your relationship with the friend,” Dr. Barakat says. “The worst case scenario is far worse than a damaged relationship.”
About the Author
Mike Riopell, health enews contributor, is a media relations coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. He previously worked as a reporter and editor covering politics and government for the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and Bloomington Pantagraph, among others. He enjoys bicycles, home repair, flannel shirts and being outside.