The following article deals with issues of, and surrounding, suicide and suicidal ideation. This content could be distressing or burdensome, and we advise you to consider you current situation and state before continuing to read. If you continue, please seek help or contact a trusted person should you begin to feel any excessive distress.
It can be one of the most heartbreaking, earth-shattering and fearful duties of a friendship, or parenthood, or of being an employer — or even for us therapists: the duty of asking “are you thinking of suicide?”
And it can become utterly soul-chilling when the answer comes back “yes.”
It is not even remotely selfish or silly that this feels frightening to any sensible person. Of course it is. Possibly the only thing that strikes terror into human beings more the possibility of facing death is the possibility that we are about to watch someone we know — someone close to us possibly — is about to die.
It is only reasonable that this can cause pause and hesitation. Yet, each of us are asked to hold firm in this moment. Why?
Because it’s not about us.
See one of the things we most desperately need to remember about persons suffering suicide is the “otherness” in their mindset — the relentless overwhelming fear that they are a burden; that they are causing suffering to others, that other’s lives would be improved if they were gone. They do not want to cause pain. They fear causing it.
So as I shake a tremor as I ask the question…. Will they admit yes? No, of course not.
As I downplay the gravity of my words by asking if they are having “dangerous thoughts” or if they are “going to hurt themselves” will they tell me? No, of course not.
As I show my fear and uncertainty by using euphemisms for death like “passing away” will they admit yes? No, CERTAINLY not.
We have to remember that these people are already drowning in guilt, and a sense of shame they cannot escape from alone. The thought that answering my question my hurt me, will drive some sufferers into further silence.
trust me, I do this for a living, I KNOW it’s hard. I know its terrifying and soul-wrenching. But it is no worse than what the askee is suffering.
So….. take your deepest breath; calm your heart. Your hands may shake, just let them rest in your lap. Steady your voice, add kindness to your tone, and ask only:
“are you having thoughts of suicide?”
And be prepared for “yes”.
If you or someone you know needs help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the 24-hour Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467. In an emergency, call triple-0.