Because this is an era of when suicide is such a part of the cultural conversation, we need to be prepared to engage with it in a serious way.
The article I linked to above is for parents who kids are watching or who have watched the popular show “13 Reasons” – but in general, I think that the show is not appropriate for any audience. It glorifies suicide and turns into a hero a teenage girl who is in serious need of help and yet instead chooses to take her own life and communicate it in a vengeful vindictive way.
Suicide is a complicated issue, biblically and psychologically. I strongly recommend you check out this sermon on suicide I posted a few weeks back. I think it will be very helpful to anyone. All of us have thought about it, and all of us know someone who has taken their life… and others who likely will in the future.
When someone says they are suicidal
However, I think what would be most valuable to many is just simple, practical guidelines for what to do when someone we know threatens suicide.
Anytime someone threatens, even in a veiled way, to commit suicide, we have two options:
- Take it seriously
- Not take it seriously
Typically, based on statistics, it would seem to be perfectly safe to go with #2., right?
Obviously, people threaten or hint at committing suicide all the time without actually doing it. There are many reasons why someone might even threaten without any intention of doing it.
Rarely do otherwise rational people become disconnected enough from reality to go through with suicide. The disconnection may not be what you think, but it is there when someone actually comes to the point of being willing to take his or her own life.
So, let’s examine option #2. Anyone who can become delusional – who can experience a psychotic break from reality – can do things that are dangerous to themselves and others. They might get in a plane attempt to vanish without warning, or have an affair, commit suicide. Even in those cases, the chances are low, right?
However, not taking it seriously can leave us with a dead or devastated friend… and we should not be willing to take that risk for a lot of reasons… one of which is that we do not want to carry the burden of our decision to not take them seriously after they are dead.
So, even if our odds of being ok not taking such a threat seriously are kind of good, the cost of being wrong is unacceptable.
Which leaves us option 1.
How to help someone who is suicidal
So, here are my recommendations:
Speak to a friend or family member and make sure she or he knows that if you suspect that they are a danger to themselves, then you are going to contact the police and send them to your friend to check on them and verify that they are safe.
Make the call.
It is also possible to send a family member who lives with them to check on them and keep a watch over them until they are safe. If that is not an option, then the police are the best option.
If the police do not think they are safe, they should take your friend to a hospital. Your friend needs to know that you will always, without hesitation, contact professionals and police if you suspect that this person is a threat to themselves. This is in an effort to protect your friend; and an effort to protect yourself from the regret that doing nothing can create.
So, she needs to make sure that if she is going to threaten or hint at suicide, that your love for her and desire for her best will motivate you to take her seriously.
If you are going to take her seriously, you have no choice to contact the professionals and/or get the police involved ASAP.
It is incumbent upon us to communicate this boundary with anyone who threatens or hints at suicide. Make sure they know that this is how you will respond to such things – that you will contact a professional and/or the police.
This kind of boundary will help you know that when the friend speaks of suicide, they are serious, since they know what your response will be. If, by some chance, they use the threat of suicide as a manipulative tool, this will put a stop to it.
If they are serious, you may save their life by refusing to keep their suicidal ideas secret. If they are serious, then even if they are going to be angry at you for telling, when they are healthy again, they will recognize that you have done what a good friend would do.
If they are not serious about suicide, they probably are serious about getting help or attention or something – and you will have helped them in that way, too. They will know you are a friend who listens and takes them seriously.
The cure for real suicidal ideation is hope. People who care can go a long way toward giving us hope. People who love us even more than they care if we are happy with them right now, give us solid hope. They give us some space to grow.
We all deeply desire to be heard and known. Giving people, whether seriously suicidal or not, other options for being heard, cared about, valued, is quite a gift. Help them understand that they are treasure and you can help them live an abundant life as the treasure they are!