Offering Support For Suicidal Ideation

It's important to ask the hard questions

Suicide is in no one’s go-to method of dealing with a problem, so if they are experiencing suicidal ideation, chances are that they tried their best to come up with other solutions and haven’t been able to.

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Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.
By Kristina Gingerich, MA, TLMHC

Suicidal ideation is a very scary thing for people experiencing it, and also for their loved ones. While thoughts about ending one’s life are concerning, they are not that uncommon. Suicidal ideation may vary from a passing thought of not wanting to “be around” to a carefully crafted plan and intentions to carry it out.

While not everyone experiencing these thoughts will attempt to take their own life, it is important not to “brush it off”. Similarly, we should not blame or guilt them. Someone who has thoughts about ending their life may not say so directly, but here are some examples of thoughts they may have/express:

  • I have let myself and other people down.
  • No one needs me.
  • I am a burden.
  • What’s the point in living?
  • I will never find a way out of this problem.
  • It’s too late to fix this.
  • I have lost everything.
  • Things will never get better for me.
  • I am a failure.
  • Nobody cares about me.

Risk Factors

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States for all ages. About 47,500 Americans die by suicide every year. This is a startling number, and unfortunately a reality. There are some factors that may be associated with having a higher risk of suicidal ideation or suicide attempts. This includes:

History of previous suicide attempts

People that have attempted ending their lives in the past are at higher risk for suicide.

Mental Health disorders

More than 90% of individuals who attempt suicide have a psychiatric disorder, such as depression, schizophrenia, personality disorder, bipolar disorder, alcoholism or other substance abuse, anxiety disorders including panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorders.

Hopelessness

A common trait that people with suicidal ideation and behavior is an overwhelming sense that there is no hope in their situation. In fact, most people consider ending their lives because they see death as their only solution/ escape.

Gender

Suicide among males is 4 times higher than among females. Male deaths represent 79% of all US suicides.

Marital status

Suicide tends to happen more commonly among unmarried people than ones that are married. Being married might increase social supports and add to overall meaning in one’s life, which are both protective factors against suicide.

Sexual minority

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual kids are 3x more likely than straight kids to attempt suicide at some point in their lives. The risk increases if parents of those families do not accept them. African American, Latino, Native American, and Asian American people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual attempt suicide at especially high rates.

Military service

Military veterans have a higher risk for suicide than the general population.

General medical illnesses

Our physical health affects our mental health and when one is not doing well, the other one often reflects that. That is also very apparent with people experiencing chronic pain, who often experience helplessness and hopelessness about the pain and a desire to escape the pain.

Traumatic brain injury

Individuals who have sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury are at a higher risk for suicidality compared to people with no brain injuries.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

The risk of suicide attempts is two to four times greater in adults who suffered childhood abuse (e.g. physical, emotional, sexual or neglect). Learn more about ACEs.

Family history and genetics

The risk of suicide increases in individuals when there is a history of suicide in the family.

Rural residence

The highest rates of suicide are found in rural areas.

Firearm Possession

The most common method for committing a suicide in the United States is using a firearm.

If you notice something, ask.

When having noticed signs of possible suicidal ideation in a loved one it is important to ask them if they are thinking of ending their lives. While it might be scary to ask, it is an important step in supporting your loved one. Contrary to what your fear might tell you, asking the question does not encourage or plan the idea of committing a suicide in their minds. When met with compassion and understanding, it tends to bring a sense of relief and help them feel less lonely. People who think and/or plan to end their lives often feel very lonely in their struggle. Providing them with space to talk openly about their thoughts can help them feel less alone.

How do I talk about suicidal thoughts with a loved one?

These topics can feel very heavy and intimidating, whether you are sharing your own or listening to a loved one. Here are some tips on how you can talk about it and offer support to a loved on who is struggling.

  • Let them know you care about them and that they are not alone.
  • Show empathy with no judgment or blame.
  • Do more listening than talking. This can be achieved by using simple active listening skills.
  • Encourage small steps. Suicidal thoughts tend to heighten when a person feels like problems are too big to solve. Encourage them to focus on getting through the day rather than tackling everything at once.
  • Ask if they have a plan or intentions to end their life. This is a way to help assess the level of support that is necessary for your loved one. If they let you know that they have a plan in mind, ask them what it is.
  • Encourage them to seek professional support. Seeking support can be very difficult, so have conversation about which supports they feel more comfortable seeking out. Supports can vary from other people in their lives, local or national suicide hotlines, doctors, therapists or local hospitals. Supports also can vary depending on their level of suicidality (frequency of thoughts, plan, intentions and means to do it).
  • When a loved one is in immediate danger, make sure someone is present with them. For example, if a loved one has plans for end their life, intentions and means to carry it out, don’t leave them by themselves.

Things to avoid:

Offering unsolicited advice to complex problems.

Suicide is in no one’s go-to method of dealing with a problem, so if they are experiencing suicidal ideation, chances are that they tried their best to come up with other solutions and haven’t been able to. Focusing energy in offering solutions, even when they seem helpful, can often feel very disconnecting and cause them to “shut down” rather than open up. While intentions are positive, this will only increase loneliness.

Downplaying the severity of it.

Telling a loved one to “cheer up”, “pull themselves together”, “man up” or “snap out of it” is not helpful. These things invalidate their experience and the severity of their feelings. Not to mention, these statements imply that they are choosing their symptoms or mental illness.

Avoiding the topic.

This will only increase your loved one’s feelings of isolation.

Guilting or shaming them.

Telling them that they shouldn’t feel a certain way or that they are being too sensitive, selfish, ungrateful, etc. for having suicidal thoughts is not helpful. Shaming only increases feelings of loneliness and feelings of being a “burden”.

Get Help and Support for Yourself

Supporting a loved one who is going through this can be very stressful. You may feel scared, worried, sad, frustrated, confused, etc. These are normal responses, but don’t feel like you have to do it alone. Reach out to mutual friends or family about expanding supports for your loved one. This will help decrease feelings of isolation while allowing yourself to relax a little bit, too.

Other ways to get support:

  • Talk to an emotional support helpline
  • Talk to a therapist or other helper that can provide guidance for you
  • Be sure to take time to concentrate on yourself and your life
  • Practice healthy boundaries and advocating for self when you don’t have it in you to give

At the end of the day, know that you are not responsible for the thoughts/ feelings or actions of another person. While it’s important to do what we can, we cannot control another person. No person can predict what will happen in the future or know reasons for another person’s actions. It’s important to remember that doing your best is enough.

Kristina Gingerich, MA, TLMHC
Kristina Gingerich, MA, TLMHC
Kristina has experience working with individuals with depression, anxiety and trauma. She focuses on creating a safe space for all clients and believes that a strong therapeutic alliance is very important in therapy work. Kristina is able to connect with diverse populations in all walks of life and considers it her privilege to walk alongside individuals in their journey.
Additional Tips
Kristina Gingerich, MA, TLMHC
Kristina Gingerich, MA, TLMHC
Kristina has experience working with individuals with depression, anxiety and trauma. She focuses on creating a safe space for all clients and believes that a strong therapeutic alliance is very important in therapy work. Kristina is able to connect with diverse populations in all walks of life and considers it her privilege to walk alongside individuals in their journey.
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