When it comes to addiction, health care providers, family and many others involved must understand that people who struggle with an addiction have likely felt suicidal in the past or do currently feel suicidal. The first reaction to that statement may create extreme anxiety or worry. However, that will be a key point in handling people who may feel suicidal specifically when they struggle with an addiction, do not panic.
Take a second to consider this: Many who struggle with an addiction often find themselves at a point where they may feel helpless, hopeless and broken. It’s actually quite understandable because addiction creates destruction and isolation and may even create a feeling of being trapped and desperate. Therefore, it is rather common that many people who struggle with an addiction have felt suicidal at some point in time. However, it is very important for health care providers, family or friends to know that there are certain things that should or should not be said to someone who is feeling suicidal.
Let’s make it very clear that if someone feels suicidal and has a high risk for suicide in their history, then action must be taken to ensure the utmost safety of that person. Yet, there have been countless times that I have encountered patients in their assessments when completing a suicide risk that immediately voice the clarification between feeling suicidal versus feeling hopeless, mainly for fear that they will be “locked away”. So to clarify, a health care provider, family or friends can actually lose the trust of individuals if they do not say the right things and clarify, which could affect how honest they choose to be in the future. Overall, getting all the facts and details while remaining calm is one of the more important messages.
However, in order to be the most effective in helping people to stay safe, listed below are some “what not to say” comments that should be avoided when working with individuals who are feeling suicidal:
- “We need to get you to the hospital now”. This could actually make individuals feel panicked or trapped and lead to dangerous reactions. Getting all the details and remaining calm can help individuals to feel safe in the case action does need to be taken.
- “Are you sure you actually feel suicidal”? On the other hand, feeling suicidal or hopeless cannot be discounted. This may make individuals feel as though their feelings do not matter, which is the exact opposite of what they need to hear.
- “How would your family/loved one feel”? Although the meaning of the question is intended to show individuals that they have people that care about them, questions of this manner often create guilt and shame and could actually increase suicidal thoughts.
- “Suicide is selfish”. Although people are entitled to their own opinions about suicide, comments such as this may turn a person away from help. It’s important to remember that the person feels so hopeless and filled with despair, which needs to be treated with empathy, not confrontation or personal opinions.
- “How could you do this to me”? Again, suicidal feelings need to be treated with empathy and calmness. Turning the suicidal thoughts into a personal matter will only create more unpleasant feelings for the person.
- “Don’t worry it’ll get better”. The point for someone feeling suicidal is that it feels as though things WILL NOT get better, so it is important to validate those feelings.
- “Things are really that bad”? It should never be a judgment about what is considered ‘that bad’ for someone else. Again, questions of this sort sound as though the suicidal feelings are being discounted and should be avoided.
Learning the warning signs, risk factors and how to prevent suicide from happening to you or someone you know is extremely important. If you, a loved one, family or friend are experiencing suicidal thoughts there is support. To learn more visit www.save.org .
Author: Natalie Woulf, MA, LPC, CADC – Utilization Review Specialist – Footprints to Recovery