An old oak tree marked the sharp turn in the road. It was her oak tree, the one she would slam into at full speed, the one that would take her life. She passed it every day on the way home; she thought about it every day. She didn’t want to live anymore, and that tree was her ticket out. Likely no one would even notice she was gone.
That’s how my friend felt. She pulled back from family and friends, and at first, we didn’t notice. Then we tried to draw her out and she resisted. She wanted — no needed — to stay at arm’s length from us. The pain was too much for her even to speak or accept a hug. We were at a loss. Luckily, she found the strength one day to find a therapist and to fight her way out of it. It was so hard for her, and it was hard for us, too.
When a loved one contemplates suicide
How can we support someone who is contemplating or has recently attempted suicide? It’s a big question. Susan Giurleo, Ph.D., told TapGenes ways to help if you are not a psychiatrist and see a need.
“If they know a family member is contemplating suicide, people who want to help should try to support the process of getting professional help for the person who is struggling,” said Giurleo. “If it is after a suicide attempt or completed suicide, offer to be with the survivors as they need you, don’t judge or shame the victim. Instead, bring meals and make sure the survivors are eating, hydrating, resting – doing self-care. Offer to be a spokesperson for the family so they don’t have to answer the phone or face texts/emails/social media input.”
Mark Olson, a military chaplain who has spent time in Afghanistan, said education for survivors is important. “First, they must understand they are not to blame. So many family members believe the lie that they are at fault for their loved one’s behavior. Second, they must begin to understand their loved one is struggling with suicidal behavior because of personal struggles with a chemical imbalance or a mental/spiritual wound. Most suicidal behavior is simply a response to a temporary reality that can be cured with the help of medication, sleep, or removing a person from a harmful environment.”
What kind of support do caregivers need?
From my experience with my friend, I knew I personally needed an outlet for the stress and anxiety I was going through. For me, that meant talking to friends and family and working out regularly to keep a sense of balance. But there is a lot more help available.
“It’s important to connect with people who understand what you are going through,” said Giurleo. “People who can acknowledge the tragedy and not ‘cover it up’ as something to be ashamed of. Support groups are helpful as well as a psychotherapist who specializes in grief and covering from the traumatic death of a loved one.”
Olson agrees, “For those with a loved one who committed suicide, I recommend the re-establishment of routine including proper meals, exercise, sleep and spiritual care. Also, it’s imperative to meet with a friend, family member or professional caregiver on a regular basis to talk through care plans and thought patterns.”
Military personnel and suicide
Sadly, military personnel take their lives at alarming rates. One study found that, since 2001, more active-duty US troops committed suicide than died in Afghanistan. The military is responding, and suicide rates dropped closer to civilian population rates as of 2013. The general population has a suicide rate of 18.7 per 100,000 population; military personnel are 22.7 per 100,000.
“The biggest issue when dealing with military personnel and veterans is the exponential factor of combat experience,” said Olson. “So many soldiers struggle with different levels of post-traumatic stress. Along with the combat experience are extended periods of separation from loved ones at home. Upon return, many individuals find it difficult to re-assimilate into civilian or family life. A military unit will often lose several soldier following a deployment due to suicide because of all these challenges.”
Olson continues, “My goal when meeting with suicidal individuals is to help them move from a focus on death to a hope for life. But it starts with genuinely caring about that person. I look to find ways to show their life matters and that their absence from this life would leave an un-fillable hole in the lives of their loved ones. Sometimes those glimpses of hope are hard to find, but they are always there.”
Suicide support resources
Your loved one may need support, and so may you. Olson and Giurleo shared this list of trusted resources.
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a good resource for finding support groups in your area.
- Friends and Families of Suicides provides resources and support lines to talk through grief and get assistance.
- American Association of Suicidology works with educating schools, medical personnel, and others on recognizing suicide help and helping people get help.
- (800) ONE SOURCE is a clearinghouse to connect family members with counselors for up to 12 weeks of free counseling.
- MFLC (Marriage Family Life Counselors) are highly trained professional civilian mental health counselors who provide counseling to soldiers and family members with 100% confidentiality. Talking to them protects the soldier from any information getting back to their chain of command.
- US Department of Veteran’s Affairs has a suicide prevention page with resources for veterans including a help line.
- Bases will also have uniformed mental health workers including psychologists, psychiatrists and caseworkers.
TapGenes TakeAway: If someone you love has attempted or contemplated suicide, there is help for them and for you. Experts point the way.
Read more at TapGenes:
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Essential Information on Suicide
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