By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
Talk. Listen. Care. Be there.
The recent suicides of people with celebrity status certainly have piqued our concern, interest and awareness. But the reality is that approximately 45,000 such deaths occur each year in the United States.
Those sometimes faceless people who might have taken their own lives could have been rich, poor, known, unknown, successful … or not.
Nevertheless, the loved ones left behind were left reeling, feeling empty and bereft. Was there something we could have done? Was it something I should have said? Did I completely miss the signs? Could I have made a difference?
Let’s begin with identifying the signs and symptoms, then some possible responses:
Signs of Depression:
- Hopelessness, indifference, helplessness
- Dramatic changes in mood
- Social isolation or withdrawal
- Low, no energy
- Changes in appearance and a sense of unkemptness
- Possible drug/alcohol use as a means to numb emotions
- Sense of worthlessness, indecisiveness
- Unable to “see” abundance of blessings around them
- Eating/sleeping disruption
What to Do:
- Express empathy and concern. One of my favorite statements is, “‘John,’ because I care about you, I am concerned.” As a result of your interest, “John” may deny any problem or may become defensive about your “concern.” If so, use the “parrot” technique to repeat: “I hear what you’re saying, but because I care about you, I am concerned.” Hopefully, this earnestness eventually will open up communication and create a conversation about exactly what your concern is.
- Be direct. Ask if the loved one is considering suicide. YOU WILL NOT be giving them ideas. Rather, you are dispelling the “elephant in the living room” and talking about real concern and consequences rather than “dancing around them.” Sometimes, the mere mention of the word gives your loved one “permission” to then admit the depth of his/her pain so that help can be sought.
- Keep reaching out, then offer suggestions. Give them a name of a trusted therapist, a clergy who will listen and encourage, an action plan for help. More than likely, the depressed person will shrug off your suggestions. KEEP TRYING … once, twice, three times, four times. The price of not doing anything is simply too high. If you continue to be met with resistance, make an appointment for them and tell them that though this may anger them, you are coming by to take them to that appointment.
- Remind them, “Because I care about you, I am concerned … and I am NOT giving up on you.”
- Enlist the help of family, friends, all of whom will give the same message to the loved one.
- Call an ambulance … if the situation escalates.
- Point to Christ – the Great Counselor, the Great Healer, the Loving Father.
Some of the best ways to help one whom you know to be depressed, feeling hopeless and having no drive for the future may sound very basic but ultimately can save lives: Care, Communication and Inquiry.
The good news is that therapy can be life-altering. Your loved one may again find the zest for life, the strength to battle life’s dilemmas and a strong hope for the future.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255