A Guide to reaching out to people who are suicidal.

By Parth A. Kalia

“Rahul goes to meet his friend Vijay at a café. But Vijay seems distracted and melancholic. Rahul remembers what Vijay had told him of the problems in his life. Rahul notices some cuts on Vijay’s hand, he realizes Vijay is trying to kill himself. Rahul wonders how he could help his friend out”

Suicide. A difficult topic for most.

In the words of a friend who had himself been suicidal at a point, “It’s not something you can understand unless you’ve been there yourself”. Suicide, and by extension, suicidal thoughts or feelings represent a very serious departure from our most deep rooted impulses. We spend our entire lives, every waking hour and moment, learning and practicing to stay alive. To put that in context, when someone is suicidal, their emotions are strong enough that they are at the point of overriding a lifetime of impulses to keep living.

There remains hope, however. For friends and family of those contemplating suicide, this can serve as a guide on how to approach and interact with them. Here are some basic dos and don’ts:

Talk about suicide directly: One of the central myths or misconceptions about suicide is that talking about suicide gives ideas or encouragement to a person that is already contemplating it.  If anything, removing the taboo of suicide that we, as a society, have can be liberating for the person contemplating it as they now have an outlet or a person to discuss it with. Someone unafraid to ask directly “Do you want to kill yourself?” or “Are you feeling suicidal?” can make a huge difference.

Rahul could initiate a conversation with his friend, Vijay directly and ask him outright if he is feeling suicidal. This could help Vijay vent out to a friend because he perceives Rahul as somebody who would understand.

Avoid talking about suicide in metaphor: When referring to suicide, there are often ways that our own discomfort with the topic can be counterproductive to the goal of discussing it openly. For example “I hope you’re not thinking of doing something”. For the person going through suicidal thoughts, this translates to “I don’t approve of you being suicidal” or worse “I don’t see why you would do this” which often makes it less likely that the person in question will be open about their feelings.

If Rahul were to speak to his friend Vijay directly about suicide instead of beating around the bush, it could make Vijay feel comfortable opening up about his struggle with suicidal thoughts.

Allow the person space to speak: Understand that for the person going through these emotions, suicide is a logical, intentional and premeditated solution to their problems at the given time. Hear them out without judgment or prejudice. Remember that suicide does not have anything to do with the actual difficulty of the one’s life and circumstances, only their perceptions of their own life and ability to cope with them.

Vijay would be willing to open up about his feelings if only Rahul would just listen patiently, instead of offering his suggestions.

Don’t try and compare one person’s experiences to another: The human experience is never universally the same for all people from all walks of life. Knowing someone that “has it worse” than someone suicidal only shames the suicidal individual for not being able to cope with their own relatively easier lives.

Rahul comparing Vijay with those less fortunate could be shameful to him as it could belittle him into thinking he can’t handle simple life situations.

Refer to a professional: In any kind of situation, when you know that the person in question is actively suicidal, contact a professional counselor or therapist for the individual.  Suicide is not a diagnosis or a problem on its own, but is often a symptom of a deeper rooted emotional issue.

Rahul could help Vijay look for trained therapists. Having the support of a close friend would be a motivating factor for Vijay to actively seek help and change his life.

Don’t try and “handle it” yourself: While a shoulder to lean on is often sufficient to provide short-term relief, the key word there is “short-term”. Again, suicide is frequently indicative of deeper concerns that a counselor is better suited to address.

Rahul thinks he can advise his friend and help him overcome his suicidal tendencies. His support could be helpful but short-lived. It is absolutely imperative that Vijay seek help from professionals for a long term solution.

Support in the form of a friend, parent, sibling or a loved one could go a long way in encouraging people to seek help without hesitation, to express their feelings, overcome suicidal thoughts and change their lives for the better.

If you would like further training in suicide intervention, there are training opportunities offered online for laypersons. Additionally, if you seek to volunteer in the field of suicide prevention, seek out an NGO working within the field.

Emergency Helpline numbers-

Pune- 9922001122 (Connecting NGO)

Kolkatta- +91 33 2474 4704/5886 (Lifeline Foundation)

Navi Mumbai- 022 2754 6669 (AASRA)

New Delhi- 011-23389090 (Sumaitri)

Srinagar- 18001807020 (Kashmir Lifeline)

Hyderabad- +914066202000/2001 (Roshni)

Kochi- 0484 2540530 (Maithri)

Chennai- +914424640050/60 (Sneha)

Jamshedpur- 0657-6453841/6555555 (Jeevan)

Bengaluru- +9180 25497777 (Sahai)

Goa- 08322252525 (You matter by COOJ)

Ahmedabad- +91 79 26305544/26300222 (Saath)

Kota- 0724 433 3666 (Hope Helpline)