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A conversation can save a life

Reaching out to someone who is suicidal may seem daunting; but doctors say that sometimes, a single conversation can save a life
By Dr Poornima Bhola

You stop to talk to your neighbor after a long time; the usual things, children, the traffic and so on. Quite unexpectedly, after some initial hesitation, she shares her thoughts about life not being worth living. What do you say or do next? Can you do anything to help?

Taking the time to listen and show that you care is the most important thing you can do in a situation like this. Any expression of suicidal thoughts is something to take seriously as a ‘call for help’. While you may worry that asking a person directly about suicide may trigger suicidal tendencies, talking about it openly could actually be more helpful. Listen to her story calmly with compassion and acceptance. This could make her feel that she is not alone. You could say something like, “I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.” Or you could ask, “When did you begin to feel like this? Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?”

Avoid saying things like, “You have so much to live for,” or “Your suicide will hurt your family” or “People have bigger problems” or “ You are being selfish and weak”. While we may mean to help, these remarks could do more harm than good. Instead, having a real, empathetic conversation can be a safety net for someone in distress.

What can you do next? She might brush everything off as something she is not very serious about, and hence she might convince you to not share this information with anyone. Never promise to keep your discussions a secret. Be proactive and do everything you can to get her the support and help she needs. Do not leave the person alone. You could contact her family members and gently share your concerns. Suggest that they call a crisis helpline or get her to see a mental health professional. She may resist and feel that there is no hope, but you may need to persist.

You may not be able to help everyone, but if you reach to one person, you can save a life.

Dr Poornima Bhola is associate professor, department of clinical psychology, NIMHANS

This article was first created and published by White Swan Foundation , edited for The Live Love Laugh Foundation

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