M, attended the panel discussion event on suicide. She shared her own experiences and reflection on this topic . If you didn’t get a chance to attend, you can still learn the key points from her key takeaways. For psychoeducation content accuracy, I, a certified psychotherapist, have reviewed it.
Psychotherapy, Director of CandleX
Author: M (panel discussion attendee)
Time: Sep 2022
Supporting Survivors of Suicide Loss
To support someone who is a survivor of suicide loss, it’s important to have empathy, and for them to be able to trust you. It’s also important to be honest. Additionally, while people are encouraged to ask their friends and family if they are suicidal, sometimes, when we are aware that someone knows someone else who died by suicide, we may feel uncomfortable or unsure what to ask, about the person who died or the situation. But as one of the mental health experts pointed out, in these situations, sometimes not asking anything is a good place to start. Sometimes simply sitting with them, or being with them, and allowing them the safety to feel their feelings, is a good choice. It’s important to provide people an environment in which they feel safe and listened to, and where their feelings can be expressed safely. Survivors tend to grieve in isolation, so providing a connection is incredibly valuable.
Supporting Someone Dealing With Suicidal Ideation
One of the focal points of the night was asking and answering the question “How can we support someone dealing with suicidal ideation?” This question was posed by the moderator and returned to several times. According to the mental health experts on the panel, the following are all good things to remember:
Listen to the person and let them tell you what they are feeling and what they need.
Validate their feelings.
Allow them a space to feel how they feel.
Don’t try to fix their problems.
Consider the relationship you have with the person (are they family? a close friend? a coworker?) and allow that to guide your response.
Provide resources such as hotline numbers or therapy information.
Ask the person what they need and how you can help or support them.
Accept and acknowledge them where they are.
All of these points are important, because otherwise there is the possibility that the person will not continue to have the conversation with you because in addition to dealing with their own feelings, they also have to worry about their relationship with you or the role you take in that relationship.
Event photo credit: Eric
The mental health experts also discussed the Safety Plan, which I think is an invaluable tool.
1. Who are your people? Who are the important people in your life, your friends? Those who really uplift you? Even one person you can think of who can be a safe place or a trusted person to confide in and look to for strength and support.
2. Where is the hope? Is there anything, no matter how small, that you can hold on to? What can you look forward to, that gives you hope?
3. Emergency numbers
What Support Do People Who Have Struggled With Suicidal Ideation Wish They Had Gotten?
At a certain point during the event, the panelists who brought some kind of personal experience to the discussion were also asked what they wish others had done to support them when they needed it. They wished they had been encouraged to get help or given some sort of practical guidance. They wished their feelings had been acknowledged. They wished there had been a lack of judgment. They also stressed the need to commend the bravery of the person who comes forward about their struggle with suicidal ideation. Given the stigma, the shame, the fear, and the sheer difficulty of talking about the issue, it takes a great deal to make that step to reach out. The person who does is doing so at great effort and potentially great cost.
The value of support groups was also stressed, as these spaces can allow survivors to talk about their experiences and express their feelings, and know that they are not alone in what they are and have been going through. CandleX provides peer support group twice a month, and you can sign up here.
What If There Are No Signs?
Much of the conversation of the night centered on what to do, and how to help, when we know the people in our lives are struggling, either with suicidal ideation, or as survivors of suicide loss. But I kept thinking to myself: What about when we don’t know? One of the panelists with personal experience voiced what is a common experience of those who are survivors of suicide loss: They didn’t know. There were no signs of what their loved one was going through.
While there will never be a perfect answer, or a 100% effective solution for preventing suicide, I think all of the advice and information given during the panel can serve as valuable information even when there aren’t signs, because all of it lays out an ideal way to treat people generally, suicidal or not. Over the discussion I noticed common threads in the stories of the panelists. There was often no discussion of or dealing with feelings and emotions in their families or friend circles. They had intense feelings of guilt and shame, and suffered from an acute lack of feeling of self-worth. All of the panelists discussed the difficulty of talking about how they felt. For some of them, these things were major factors in what could be described as a spiral towards greater intention of suicide. I have to wonder how many lives can be saved if all of us are able to talk, to reach out for help, to feel supported, valued and believed, and given the chance to be accepted for who we are.
The Suicide Awareness Panel was so much more than simply a panel. It was a personal reawakening to my own history of struggle with mental health issues. It was a small but important step toward creating a better and more open society capable of supporting those suffering. It was an invaluable resource for saving lives.
At the end of the night, I left the panel more informed than I had been coming in, more in tune to my own place in a connected world, and more committed than ever to keeping such an important and urgent conversation going.