3 Ways to Help a Loved One With Depressive Thoughts

Lonely man sitting by a lake

If you are anything like me, you are still deeply feeling the devastating news that both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain died by suicide.

Perhaps their deaths painfully remind us of someone in our own life who has considered suicide or taken their life. Maybe they jog our memories of periods in our own life when things seemed so bleak that we either began to grasp why people become suicidal or our heads danced with thoughts of taking our life.

I was startled when a recent news report on National Public Radio said suicide rates have escalated in 49 out of 50 of the Unites States. If there was ever a time for a wake-up call about suicide, it is now.

I feel pretty lucky that none of my significant loved ones have died by suicide. But I do remember a loved one telling me many years ago that they once had an active plan to take their life that I did not know about, until they had changed their mind.

Fortuitously right when this person was on the precipice of taking their life, they attended a spiritual retreat and during this weekend away the message focused on how beloved they were to both God and others. This reminder that they were deeply loved kept this individual from killing themselves. I’m so grateful this esteemed person in my life is still alive, because their life has positively impacted me and so many others.

I’m sure you agree with me that there is no one in your life that you want to lose. It is so important for all of us to work together to prevent suicide. We must be aware of the warning signs for suicide and if we see those cautionary signs, we must not be afraid to ask our loved ones if they are contemplating suicide.

If they are considering taking their life, we need to make sure we listen deeply to their concerns, let our loved ones know how much they matter to us and encourage them to find professional help.

Some of the Warning Signs for Suicide

Often suicide is caused by a combination of reasons including:

  • Sleeping too much/insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Being hopeless about one’s future
  • Self-harming or past suicide attempts
  • Struggling with self-worth
  • Experiencing significant guilt/shame about a perceived mistake
  • Feeling lonely or excluded
  • Anger and reactivity
  • Substance abuse
  • The death of a significant loved one
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Impulsiveness
  • Having suicidal thoughts
  • Experiencing voices
  • The end of a romantic relationship
  • A job loss and/or financial pressures
  • Being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness
  • Having a family member who has taken their life
  • Feeling overwhelmed by stressors and the pain of life

This is not an exhaustive list. For more information on warning signs for suicide please visit: https://save.org/about-suicide/warning-signs-risk-factors-protective-factors/

3 ways you can help

If you have a loved one in your life who is exhibiting some or many of these signs, then here are 3 things you can do to help:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask a loved one if they are considering suicide

Many people worry that if they ask a loved one whether they are contemplating suicide, then the person will feel slighted.

While it is within the realm of possibilities that the person you are concerned about might get angry, it seems important to remind ourselves that we would rather them be angry at us, than have them be alone in their suicidal thoughts or to have a loved one take their life.

You can start a conversation with someone you are worried about by simply saying something like, “I have been worried about you lately. You just haven’t seemed like yourself.

By asking a loved one whether they are struggling with suicidal thoughts, we are telling someone they are important to us and that we don’t want them to carry their burdens alone.

If a friend who is struggling says something like, “I’m just so down and it feels like more than I can bear,” we know it is time to ask the question: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?

It is also important to know that it is a myth that talking about suicide will cause someone to think about suicide or take their life. It can actually feel very liberating for someone to know another person cares enough to ask about them. It is also important for all people to have safe people with whom to unload feelings and share the pain of life.

Suicide is the elephant in the room that we never talk about. But it is extremely important for all of us to start communicating about it and this can be an opportunity to normalize that suicide is something many people consider.

When we talk about suicide, it can give loved ones permission to open up about their feelings and pain.

2. Listen deeply & validate their feelings

When we first heard that Kate Spade and then Anthony Bourdain took their lives, most of us reacted by wondering why they would do this?

They had their families, intelligence, physical health, material possessions, and exotic trips. They both had beautiful young daughters. Anthony’s daughter is 11 and Kate’s is 13. So why would they do such a thing?

But sadly the pain of life can obliterate the ability to see the beauty surrounding us and the light at the end of the tunnel.

When someone comes to us with suicidal feelings, our human tendency is to want to fix them and tell them all the reasons they would not want to do this. From our perspective, just like Kate and Anthony, they too have a beautiful life in front of them. But we need to be careful to not go into the mode of trying to fix someone, who has been brave enough to admit suicidal feelings. We don’t want to end up missing the pain they need to communicate to us.

Sometimes when people find someone who can listen deeply to their pain, it can make the dark feelings more manageable.

When we listen, we need to repeat to our loved one what they are saying, so they know we hear them. This tool is called reflective listening, because we are reflecting back to them what we hear them saying. We need to validate the pain that is very real to them and we can do this by affirming their feelings, making eye contact, and offering an accepting and non-judgmental presence.

When we say things like, “You have such a nice house and great life. You don’t need to be depressed,” we are dismissing their feelings. We might think we are putting things in perspective for them, but we are probably trying to assuage some of our own anxiety.

It is a lot easier to try to fix someone or remind them of the good in their life, than it is to sit with them in the darkness of their pain. But instead of our words, what they need is our empathy, presence, a listening ear, and validation.

3. Remind hurting loved ones that they matter

Once we have been able to sit with a loved one in the midst of their suicidal feelings, it is time to make sure they know how much their life matters to us.

Take some time to remind your loved one of their gifts and graces, and make sure you communicate to them that because they are so special to you and this world, you would like to see them get help.

If someone is having thoughts of suicide, but not an active plan, you can encourage the person to see a counselor and psychiatrist. You can even help them locate these professionals and when possible, offer to go to their appointments with them. If they do go to see someone, you can remind them to keep follow-up appointments and to take any medications that are prescribed.

But if a loved one has an active plan to take their life, then it is imperative to call 911, a local crisis center or take them to an emergency room. It also is important to remove guns, drugs, knives and any other potential lethal means from their home. If a significant other is suicidal, it is vital they are not left alone. When possible, find a team of family and friends who are willing and able to take turns staying with your loved one.

Remember – you need to practice self care as well

You also will likely need to get help for yourself during this time. It is essential to find a friend, clergy person or counselor to talk to about what you are going through.

As you watch a loved one suffer, you will likely experience your own feelings of anxiety and sadness. Please also be mindful to remember that you love this person and are trying to help them, but you are not responsible for their pain and feelings or for the actions they might take.

Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade had many family and friends who loved them deeply and who had been trying to help them, but unfortunately Kate and Anthony both took their respective lives. But I don’t believe anyone in their life is responsible for this.

However, their deaths are a loss for their families and this world, and so we all must strive to be there for those in our lives who are feeling suicidal, in the hope they will feel some relief from their pain, see their value and worth and stay on the journey with us.

Please refer this link to get a list of suicide crisis lines worldwide.

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About the Author
Dr.Christy Bonner is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a board-certified chaplain, and a certified yoga teacher. Check out her blog: www.mindbodyandspiritcare.com
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