Updated: Jun 28
You and your significant other are having a conversation when suddenly he/she pauses. “I've been having thoughts of taking my life”...
It shouldn't happen to you, but it did. Your significant other just told you they have been thinking about taking their life. It weighs on you like a ton of bricks and you may not know what to say back to them. I've been asked what should happen next if this ever happens. I've created 3 things you can do if you ever find yourself in this situation. I'm going to use the term “significant other” here to describe a family member or close friend because they are significant in your life. However, it could also be a romantic partner.
1. Thank Them For Telling You
In a world where everyone is "coming out”, there seem to be no more closets that people are hiding in anymore. Everyone is “out”, and everyone is proud to be what they are…except suicidal. Suicide is not a flag that people fly with pride, so when someone brings it up in a conversation, it's serious. It takes a lot of courage to tell someone you are feeling suicidal…even if it is a close family member or friend. So the first thing you should do is thank them for telling you.
"Thank you for trusting me with that information. How long have you been feeling like this?” is a perfect response. If someone is suicidal, you would think they would just scream it from the mountaintops, or just act on how they are feeling. By coming to you that person is showing you the trust in your relationship. They are showing you how much you mean to them by sharing with you their most intimate feeling. You should appreciate the fact that someone is sharing this information with you. After all, they could have just acted on this feeling with no warning at all.
2. Make a Plan…Together
You are in this together now, and the healing process will have to happen together as well. You two may not be going out to bars and throwing back shots for a while, but what you will be doing helps the both of you. You can immediately pull out your phones and look for the nearest NAMI affiliate nearest you. If you aren't familiar with NAMI, they provide free mental health resources and programs for people with mental health challenges.
This part may be difficult, but you may have to set some boundaries during this step. For someone who is feeling suicidal, you are going to want to avoid some of your “old” fun. Speaking from experience, getting drunk/high or going to the bar to find someone to take home doesn't make things better. We often look for the simplest solution, because it requires the least amount of work. You don't want to be part of the problem here, only the solution.
What you can do is offer to go to therapy sessions with your significant other. If alcohol is a major factor, you can even attend AA meetings with them (or NA if drugs are a factor). There is freedom in sobriety, even if it only lasts a couple of months. Your significant other will greatly appreciate your willingness to be part of their healing.
There is a MAJOR caveat here: DO NOT, I REPEAT DO NOT be a "helicopter” significant other. That means calling or texting all the time, showing up unannounced, or doing subliminal stuff like posting or commenting on social media about the subject. Example: posting “I'm such a good person/People should be happy to have me in their life". This person came to you in their time of need. The last thing you want is for that person to regret their decision.
3. Celebrate Your Wins
There may not come a time when your significant other says “I don't feel suicidal anymore”. However, you will know. I can guarantee that it will be one of the healthiest, most rewarding relationships you’ll ever have in your life. Looking back at step one, this was a person that told you they were thinking about ending their life. Now, they are more alive than ever and your relationship with them will be too.
Another caveat here: don't bring up the dark times…ever. As much as you may pride yourself on helping your significant other, remember it's THEIR story, not YOUR’S. No need to pat yourself on the back, or take a social media victory lap. What you can do is try to help others that may need your new found skill for helping those in need. You can become a peer mentor with NAMI, or become a professional speaker like me. My reasoning behind writing this blog is having so many people come up to me after a speech to ask what to do if someone tells them they are thinking about taking their life. You may come up with your own list one day.
The opposite of life is death. You had someone in your life tell you that they thought about ending their life. Now, this same person is living their best life and you had a direct impact on that. Ask your significant other if they would like to do something to commemorate your relationship. It is literally a celebration of life. This should be celebrated, and you and your significant other should appreciate the value that you both have in each other's lives.
You can turn tragedy into success. This isn't a conversation that anyone wants to have with a significant other, but it can bring out the best in you and your relationship. Even if you don't know what to do in this situation, do something. As weird as this may sound, be honored that someone trusted YOU with this information. You are doing something right in your life and you should use this experience to help others that may be struggling with their mental health.