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Worried about someone? Here's how to help a friend in crisis

An eight-step action plan to help anyone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts.

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OVER THE PAST few years, Ireland has been making progress on tackling the stigma related to suicide and self-harm.

Although we still have a long way to go, there has been a sea change of sorts in attitudes and the conversation around this national problem has shifted to a more practical, productive place.

But there’s still a lot more to do.

One thing we can all be aware of and do in our daily lives is look out for those we feel or know are at risk of suicide or self-harm. Pieta House was set up in 2006 to do just that, and they have some advice on how to help someone who you fear is at risk.

1. Take them seriously

Firstly, you should take it seriously if someone tells you about suicidal feelings. It is not just attention-seeking. Trust in their honesty and be as kind and compassionate – let them know that they will get the help they need.

2. Take action

Tell them about services like Samaritans and Pieta House. Let them know you’ll help them make an appointment if they wish to see a counsellor  - and even come with them the first time if they need you to.

3. Create a support network

Be supportive – and vigilant. Involve other family members and friends. Don’t take the whole burden on yourself. Let the person see how much they are loved and wanted by others. Even if they ask you not to tell anyone, it is crucial that you let key people in their life know (their parents, family or friends). They need to help you through the crisis too.

4. Keep them active

Bring them for walks, sit with them and try not to allow them to spend time alone.

5. Find the right help

There are many options out there for those experiencing suicidal thoughts.

  • Pieta House – Nine centres around the country for the prevention of self-harm or suicide. Information at pieta.ie and phone contacts here.
  • Samaritans – Someone to talk to, any time and in your own way, completely off the record. Call 116 123.
  • Aware – A supporting light through depression, providing education, information and support. Website here.
  • Headstrong – The National Centre for Youth Mental Health, dealing specifically with young people. Website here.

A full list of support services, provided by Pieta House. Remember, you can always phone the emergency services if you feel a life is in immediate danger too.

6. Is your friend self-harming?

Many people do things that they know are harmful to themselves to help cope with difficult emotions or experiences. This can be anything from eating or drinking too much, taking drugs, or intentionally hurting themselves. Pieta House also deals with the issue of self-harm. Find out more about how to help a loved one who is harming themselves here.

7. Bust some myths about suicide

What people say: “People who talk about suicide don’t go through with it.”

The truth: Actually, 80% of people who die by suicide have talked about it.

What people say: “Only clinically depressed people attempt suicide.”

The truth: Suicidal thoughts can follow any serious life event – the breakdown of a relationship, losing a job or death of a loved one. This can affect anyone, even if they have no history of mental health issues.

What people say: “Suicide can’t be prevented.”

The truth: Most suicidal people don’t want to die – they want their emotional pain to stop. Most suicides are preventable. If someone you know speaks about suicide, persuade them to get help from a compassionate source.

8. Stay supportive

Pieta House also gives advice for family and friends on how to offer support to a loved one with suicidal thoughts. You should check in with the person every day over the next few weeks, after the crisis has passed. Find out how they’re feeling. Some days they may feel low, and other days fine. This is normal – but if you are worried, do not hesitate to contact someone from the list of support services above.

You can further help those affected by suicidal thoughts and self-harm by supporting Pieta House. On Saturday the10th of May, in association with Electric Ireland, Pieta House will celebrate their sixth annual Darkness Into Light fundraising run. Find out more at dil.pieta.ie.

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