Written by: Nick Bloodworth, LMFT
Suicide attempts and successful suicides are on the rise and has been steadily increasing over the past few years. People are afraid of talking about suicide out of fear that it may increase the chance that someone commits or attempts suicide. In this article, I want to help encourage the reader to understand the importance of having this conversation as well as identifying common fears people have for avoiding this conversation.
When it comes to asking someone if they are okay, fear often times gets in the way. We fear what response we might get, we fear our inexperience on the topic of suicide and we fear to appear to be nosey. However, the concern for beginning these conversations clouds the relief that people feel after they hear that question, ‘are you okay?’ The question for us as parents, teachers, professionals and everyone else is, “how do we challenge our fears to ensure we are asking the question in a supportive and encouraging manner?” First, we have to discuss our fears that often keep us from having the conversation.
- “I don’t know what to say.” You don’t need to offer advice or solutions, being there for support by listening gives the person hope and it validates the emotions that the individual is feeling.
- “I don’t want to make it worse.” People have this myth that talking about suicide makes it worse, but that is not the case and this myth keeps people from reaching out. You can’t make matters worse by sharing that burden and adding another person of support can only be a positive thing. After sharing, most people feel better and feel as if the weight on their shoulders is lighter.
- “I’m worried about offending them.” If given a negative response or an angry response, this is often the sign of a defense mechanism. It is possible for them to respond out of anger when asked. This is a great opportunity to share your concern with them. You don’t want to take the angry response and use it as an excuse to step back and avoid the conversation. You might say, “I did not mean to upset you, I was simply concerned and wanted to see that everything is going okay.”
- “I’m not an expert.” No one needs to be an expert to ask the question, “Are you okay?” Caring about someone is enough reason to ask because while you may not be an expert, you are someone that the person values. You can always seek professional help after having the conversation for further assistance.
- “It’s none of my business”. If you are concerned about someone, that’s all the permission you need to ask the question. Even if they don’t answer or are not honest at that moment, you open the opportunity to have the discussion in the future. The wellbeing of the people around us is always our business
We all have fears or excuses that can be used to avoid having the conversation with someone we care about. We simply need to remember that a conversation could change a life. This conversation could be the simple gesture that shows compassion and support that could have a positive effect on someone that is going through troubling times.