A recent New York Times article (http://nyti.ms/132QRZf ) about the alarming increase of suicides among baby boomers caught my attention. The writer noted that “a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to pain killers may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.”
This upsurge in suicide among boomers suggests that more of us — family members, colleagues, and friends — may be challenged to deal directly with suicide.
I once staffed a suicide prevention hotline. I remember that callers intent on killing themselves needed to be heard — a lot. We were trained to pose tough questions: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Hard to ask, but it put the issue squarely on the table. If a caller replied, “Yes,” we followed up with: “Do you have a plan?” “When and how?” “Have you tried suicide before?” If the answers showed an immediate, realistic threat, it might be time to call 911.
But most of us aren’t talking to strangers on a hotline. What should we do if a friend or loved one appears so depressed that we suspect they may be suicidal?
Be prepared to listen — without judgment, advice (unless asked), or trying to ‘fix’ your friend. Still, just because someone doesn’t ask for help doesn’t mean it’s not wanted. Once the conversation has begun, stick with it. Don’t act shocked. Keep your voice calm. Express sympathy. Non-judgmental listening may be the first step in revealing and even reversing the person’s intention.
Be prepared to ask, “Are you thinking of harming yourself?” If she says “Yes,” your next question is “How?” You are not putting an idea in her head. She has probably been thinking about it for some time. It shows you take her seriously, and it’s OK for her to share her pain with you.
Let your friend know that he or she is not alone. Offer to come over and sit with him. Or say, “I’ll call you at 7 a.m. tomorrow. Will you promise to answer the phone?” And do it.
Once you feel the person trusts you, urge him to get professional help. If a threat seems imminent try to persuade him to let you drive him to the hospital. Let him know there is hope out there and a friend who cares.
If you’ve ever had such an experience, please share it.