Kelly is worried about her sister. Gina has always had a melancholy personality, but lately, she has been more “down” than usual. Kelly knows Gina has been turning to alcohol in an effort to “lift her spirits.” Her drinking habits seem to be taking over her life and causing greater depression. The other night, Gina told Kelly she felt hopeless and that she “just wants it all to end.”
Kelly doesn’t know how seriously she should take this comment. Was it the alcohol talking? Is her sister suicidal? Should she intervene? Her sister’s life may be at stake, and Kelly has no idea what to do.
Kelly is right to be concerned. Many people find themselves in her shoes and are as uninformed as Kelly about what action to take. If your loved one is struggling with addiction and depression and you feel they may be suicidal, take the following steps.
How To Check on Your Loved One
1. Ask questions. Be sensitive but direct. Ask the person questions to determine if they are suicidal. Questions such as “How are you coping with life?” “Are you thinking about dying?” and “Are you contemplating suicide?” will help reveal their mindset and allow them the opportunity to share their struggles.
2. Look for warning signs. Watch for social withdrawal, feelings of hopelessness, self-destructive behavior, increased drug or alcohol use, mood swings, personality changes, preoccupation with death, and the giving away of belongings. If these warning signs are present and/or the answers to your questions indicate they are suicidal, move on to the following actions.
3. Encourage them to get help. If your loved one is severely depressed, they might be resistant to treatment or simply lack the energy and motivation to seek it. This can be especially difficult if their depression is paired with an addiction. Suggest consulting a mental health professional, attending a support group or speaking with a leader at a crisis center or faith community. Let them know trained counselors are available at the suicide hotline number, 800-273-TALK. Offer to help them take these steps. You can assist by researching treatment options, looking into payment resources and going with them to an appointment.
4. Offer loving support. Encourage your loved one to open up to you. Listen without interrupting. Respect their feelings, even if you don’t understand them. Keep in mind that their thoughts might not be logical, but their feelings are real. Avoid patronizing comments or statements that will make them feel judged, but reassure them that treatment is available and things can get better.
5. Take precautions. Encourage them to avoid drug and alcohol use, since this only makes their feelings and the overall situation worse. If they are taking any medication that could be lethal, offer to safeguard it and dispense it for them as prescribed (or find someone else to do so). Remove other potentially dangerous items from their surroundings, such as knives and guns.
6. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. A suicidal loved one may ask you to keep their feelings a secret. Don’t do it. Explain that you can’t keep this promise if their life is in danger. You must get them the help they need. Never downplay or ignore this situation. The truth is, many people who kill themselves demonstrate warning signs and even talk about it beforehand. Don’t worry about overreacting. Your loved one’s life is at stake.