What you need to know:
- The last thing a person who is suicidal wants to hear is how selfish they are for contemplating suicide.
- This will come across as a condemnation and will trigger more feelings of guilt.
Discovering that your spouse has suicidal thoughts may come as a shock. However, what you do after this discovery could be the difference between them tipping over or being saved.
Swinging between life and death
Ensure things your spouse could use to take their life are not readily available around the home. According to Lisa Firestone, the author of Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, and researcher of suicide cases, this method works because suicidal thoughts and symptoms usually fluctuate over time. “Because these thoughts and signs are transient and temporary, making common means of suicide harder to access could provide the suicidal person time and space to awaken from the trance of the anti-self and access help,” she says. Her sentiments are echoed by Suicide Awareness Voices journal. The journal says that even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, and they will tend to waver between wanting to live and wanting to die until the very last moment. “The impulse to end their life, however overpowering, does not last always [because] most suicidal people don’t want death; they want the pain to stop,” it says.
Connect with the part of your spouse that wants to live rather than the one that wants to die. “When they open up to you, look at any behaviours or activities that made them feel better in the past and encourage them to engage in them,” says Ms. Firestone. Do not fear that talking about death in a mature manner will enhance a suicidal person’s thoughts on ending their life. “Bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do,” the Suicide Awareness Voices journal recommends. But there are certain communication traps such as condemnation and interrogation that you should be careful about, to avoid pushing a suicidal spouse over.
You will cause more harm than good if you turn your home into a CIA interrogation Black Site where your partner must spit the truth regarding their suicidal intentions. “Do not subject your suicidal spouse to any form of interrogation to establish the root cause of their problems. Additionally, don’t be judgmental or panicky,” says psychologist Patrick Musau. You must always bear in mind that suicide will already have implanted the notion that the suicidal spouse is bad, defective, undeserving of life or love or hope or compassion. These are the notions you want to avoid through your actions and inactions. For instance, telling them ‘How could you?!’ or 'Why would you want to die, you have so much to live for!' will entrench the feeling that they are faulty, selfish, and undeserving of life. “Instead, be reassuring that you will allow them to open up at their own pace and tell you what is bugging them in their own way,” says Stacey Fredenthal, a psychotherapist and author of Speaking of Suicide.
What not to say
Suicide is selfish
The last thing a person who is suicidal wants to hear is how selfish they are for contemplating suicide. This will come across as a condemnation and will trigger more feelings of guilt.
Many people have bigger problems but they aren’t suicidal
This form of comparison will usually worsen their self-condemnation, regardless of how true it is. “Your loved one will probably have felt the same way, but with shame. They will compare themselves with others and conclude that they are defective or broken,” says Fredenthal.
How could you think of hurting your family like that?
According to Ms. Fredenthal, the suicidal spouse is already aware that their action will hurt those she leaves behind, especially her spouse and children. “Do not go for this sort of reaction when trying to help them or get them to open up about why they are suicidal. They have already been feeling awful about their intentions,” she says.
What to say
According to Ms. Fredenthal, your words must acknowledge your spouse’s feelings and show compassion. For example, you can say, ‘I am concerned about you because I care, and I would like to help however I can’ or ‘That sounds painful. I am so sorry. I appreciate that you have shared this with me. How can I be of help?’ Your support should not be temporary. You will need to keep reassuring your spouse from time to time that you are there for them.