Suicide prevention starts with a conversationArticle Date | 8 September, 2022
By Stephanie Garcia, LSST’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Officer (Memo House)
The 10th of September 2022 marks World Suicide Prevention Day. In this article, we have put together some tips on how to talk to someone about their negative thoughts.
On average, we have 6,000 thoughts per day and up to 80% of those thoughts can be negative. This can have a significant effect on our mental wellbeing. How can we manage such negative thoughts that can lead to becoming worried, nervous, scared, upset and even insecure?
Changing our negative thoughts can be very difficult and professionals have encouraged ways to begin this path such as; accepting the negative thoughts by reminding yourself it is just a thought and it will pass, practising meditation and mindfulness to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and access professional help from a therapist or practitioner.
Nevertheless, the first step to identifying which technique might be useful to change our negative thoughts is - talking. When we talk about how we think and feel it can help us build a bridge between ‘I am’ to ‘I am feeling.’ By talking we are working on accepting the negative thoughts and separating them from what defines us. This can support our process of acceptance and improve our decision-making on how to tackle negative thoughts.
Avoiding talking about negative thoughts and the impact on our mental health can create a stigma which silences individuals. In that silence, we can feel alone and isolated leading to possible suicidal thoughts and actions. Through talking we can connect with others, share helpful resources, and feel understood. When people feel that sense of belonging and acceptance developing, they may start to realise that suicide is not the only option.
Here are 7 tips on how to talk with your LSST peers, family, and friends when it comes to discussing negative thoughts:
When someone is talking to you about their thoughts and feelings it is very important that you orientate your whole attention towards them. Pay attention to their body language, posture, facial expressions, tone of voice and timing of words as this can say a lot about the internal state of an individual.
It is important to focus on the person who is talking to you by not changing the topic or speaking about yourself. The aim of active listening is to listen for meaning.
Read more on active listening here.
Empathic understanding is the ability to comprehend what the other person is feeling without being sympathetic. This means that you do not feel pity or sorrow for the individual’s situation but, in contrast, you see the situation through their eyes and understand why their feelings and actions make sense to them.
It can be difficult to distinguish between empathy and sympathy however it may be a good idea to pay attention to how we respond to both. For example, showing sympathy can sound like ‘I know exactly how you feel’ or ‘I can imagine what you are feeling.’ On the other hand, empathy is shown by wanting to learn more about the feelings of the individual using phrases such as ‘Can you give an example of this...’ or ‘Please can you explain this point in more detail...’
Read more on empathy here.
Ask if they want comfort or solutions
Once you have listened and understood, you will be able to ask the person what support they need now. Does the person want to feel comforted or reassured that they are not alone? Do they want to feel that you are there for them? Or does the person need help in identifying ways to solve an issue? This is a key piece of information which can enable you to effectively support someone.
Helpful versus unhelpful language
Be careful with the language that you use when talking to others about their thoughts and feelings. The key is to make the other person feel comfortable speaking about their concerns, open-ended questions, positive encouragement, and body language can be especially useful. It is important to avoid negative, guilt-driven and daunting language as this can only elevate the stigmatisation and stop others from getting connected to support.
Keep in mind how you may refer to someone who is talking to you about their mental health issues, avoiding phrases such as ‘mentally ill person.’ Mental illness is a very broad term and it does not reflect entirely who a person is.
Examples of helpful language can be:
‘I’m so glad you are sharing this with me...’
‘I can see that you are finding this difficult and you are not alone...’
‘It is okay to feel this way, I am here to listen.’
‘As a person who is experiencing mental health difficulties...’
Read more about the language we use to describe mental health here
Offer resources and signpost
There are many charities and organisations which can provide support for mental health issues. To identify the most appropriate support please use the NHS website.
For suicide and self-harm support, Samaritans can be a useful resource to share with others, that also has a free 24/7 helpline: 116 123. You may also direct individuals to a website named Hub of Hope where individuals can search for a topic and find local support.
If you are supporting a student, you can let them know that LSST has a Student Mental Health Champions at each campus that can offer peer support and signpost to external support. Students can also book a wellbeing session with the Mental health and Wellbeing officer by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If it is a crisis where you are concerned that someone may be at risk to themselves or others – asking directly if they are having suicidal thoughts could protect them. It is always important to contact emergency services such as the police on 999 or local mental health crisis teams. It may be a good idea to contact their GP or you can also speak to a mental health first aider if there is one in your workplace or campus.
It may be a good idea to check in after your conversation by sending a motivational message or reminding them of the resources available. A common symptom of depression is memory loss and lack of retaining information so having a written reminder of support which is available to them or key points made in your conversation can be helpful.
A recent article has found that reaching out to check in with friends can have a significant positive effect as they will appreciate it more than we expect.
Look after your own mind
It is particularly important that you look after your own mind too. Please take time to also speak to someone about how you feel and think, practise meditation and exercise that works for you and access as much support around you as possible.
One great way to do this is by creating a Mind Plan on https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/mental-wellbeing-tips/your-mind-plan-quiz/. Mind plan can help you gain a personalised plan to look after your mental wellbeing, set reminders and access support.
There are also some excellent online guides that may help you depending on any specific issue you may be experiencing; you can find some on this website: https://www.thecalmzone.net/guide-list.
You can also explore tips for improving your mental wellbeing and once you are able to use them for yourself you can share them with those around you.
Please remember to be kind to your mind and the minds of others.
This LSST blog highlights and discusses issues relating to suicide and mental health. If you are affected by any of the points or issues raised, there are services that can help:
If you are a LSST student and would like to speak to someone about suicide or any of the topics mentioned in this article please contact email@example.com or your local student support office. You can also access peer support by speaking to a Mental health champion on campus.