Last week, a story broke about a young promising student who died by suicide. It is hard to follow that story, with the nuances and experiences of the young guy, and not feel your heart break by the loss. I still remember when a friend put up a picture of his brother with the words ‘Till we meet again.’ We had all grown up together though we were slightly out of touch and living in different countries. Still, it hit me hard when he said his brother had died by suicide.
it was hard to reconcile the bubbly young man I knew with suicide. But it did make me realise that suicidal people don’t always wear their feelings publicly. And even when they do, many of us are not prepared or sure how to handle. I don’t have all the answers, but if you know someone who has shared thoughts of suicide even in the slightest way, here are a few ways you can deal with it.
Listen and affirm them
A listening ear is important in situations like this. Don’t always try to jump to provide a solution or conclusion. Just listen, even if you don’t fully understand what they’re talking about or can’t relate. Be there for them to the best of your ability. Make sure they know they are loved and loved unconditionally. Tell them and show them. Knowing you’re there and they can talk to you, will help your friend feel less alone in the world.
Don’t try to explain away how they feel
It’s not entirely uncommon for Africans to disregard or explain away feelings of depression or suicide. For a long time, we felt it was un-African to feel these things and most people ended up being in denial or never really dealing with. Now we are in a more enlightened time, so never make your friend feel like their feelings aren’t valid. Don’t be dismissive or disregard how they feel.
Encourage them to get help
Without being too pushy, encourage them to get help, because there is only so much you can do. But do this after some time has passed, so it doesn’t look as if you can’t be bothered. Or as if you’re just passing them off to someone else to do the work. You can further point them in the direction of a good therapist and occasionally check if they have reached out to them. If you’re financially able, you can offer to pay for some sessions to start with, this may encourage them, even more, to reach out to the therapist.
Dealing with a suicidal friend is always sensitive and sometimes you may feel like you’re walking on eggshells around the person because you’re scared of saying or doing something that may tip them over the edge. So, you have to be careful and if you feel you’re out of your depth, instead of making matters worse, speak to a trusted friend or someone who is in a better position to handle the situation than you are.
Finally, please call any of these suicide prevention hotlines below if you need help or know someone who does: