Hearing that a friend, family member, acquaintance or work colleague has been thinking about suicide will likely be highly distressing news.
You may have heard about it from someone else or the person may have told you directly. You may also have suspected or known that they are going through a tough time, or it may have come “out of the blue”.
Regardless of how the news reaches you, knowing that someone close is having suicidal thoughts can leave you with many unpleasant thoughts and feelings about what to do and say. These can seem intense, bewildering, unpleasant and even contradictory (e.g. feelings of both anger and a desire to help).
It is normal to feel upset by such distressing news. In fact, you may have started looking up information on what to do. You may even have come across some of the excellent information on how to help someone who is feeling suicidal.
It is of course vital that the person who is feeling that way feels supported. However, an area that is easy to forget about when focussing on someone else’s wellbeing is self-care.
As mentioned, the news that someone close to you is suicidal can be incredibly distressing. That means that yes, it’s ok be concerned about your own wellbeing. After all, in order to support the person who is feeling suicidal you want to be at your best, right?
8 self-care tips when someone is suicidal
Self-care is a term used to describe things you do to look after yourself during a difficult time. Since you might be feeling overwhelmed or anxious, self-care means finding healthy ways to cope. It is really worth re-emphasising: you need to take care of yourself if you are to do a good job of supporting others. Here are eight healthy tips for self-care.
1) Get active and do regular exercise. The mental health benefits of physical activity are well known. Simply “getting out of your head” can really help with improving your outlook and reducing stress. Physical activity doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym or going for a sprint — even a simple brisk walk can help cardiovascular activity and help clear your mind.
2) Work on improving sleep. Poor sleep can seriously affect your wellbeing. Anyone who has tried to function the day after a bad night’s sleep knows how it feels: it affects everything from your concentration to your ability to deal with stress. Long-term, poor sleep can also affect physical health.
If you’re worried about sleep, then don’t drink grog before bed, cut down on the caffeine from midday onwards, try to avoid too much time spent looking at screens and smartphones in the hours before bed, and think about winding down in bed by reading for a bit before you turn the light off. Beyond Blue has more useful tips for getting better sleep.
3) Eat right. Sugary or greasy foods are a common coping mechanism for people experiencing stress, worry and anxiety. Yes, they provide a short-term reward but they can also start to become an unhealthy habit. So consider drinking water when you feel the craving for bad food, stock up on fruit as an alternative, try to plan meals ahead (very useful to avoid the temptation of takeaway) and avoid going shopping when you’re hungry. Not only will it be healthier for your body, it will probably be cheaper.
4) Avoid turning to drugs and alcohol. Alcohol and drugs are very common coping mechanisms among people experiencing depression, anxiety and stress. Unfortunately, while they can feel like they provide short-term relief from a difficult situation, they do not fix the long-term problems. In fact, alcohol is a drug that can eventually strengthen and maintain the problem.
Regular drug and alcohol abuse can cause unpredictable changes in mood, affect your temper, and strain or damage your relationships.
5) Talk it out. Talking about your problems with a trusted professional is one of the best things you can do. It can provide you with a new perspective that will likely make you feel better about your situation. So reach out to a friend, family member or trusted acquaintance. If that’s not an option, then consider talking it out with a professional counsellor.
NQ Connect counsellors are professionally trained to listen and help you deal with your stresses and worries. They provide free counselling over the phone or online and are available 24 7.
6) Allow yourself to do the things you enjoy. You should not feel guilty about doing the things you enjoy if it helps you relax and feel more grounded. If crafts, movies or sport are your downtime, then go ahead and do those things. Doing what you enjoy will make you a better person and therefore equip you to deal with difficult situations.
7) Try mindfulness or meditation. “You want me to do what?” is a common response among people who have not tried mindfulness or meditation. Quite simply, it’s about focussing on the “present” and calming your mind. People who try mindfulness often report feeling a lot calmer and in control of their thoughts and actions. Apps like Headspace, Calm or Smiling Mind can help get you started.
8) Try singing (especially with other people). There is growing evidence that singing has some great psychological benefits and that it can help with the symptoms of anxiety, depression and loneliness. At the very least, it’s a lot harder to focus on worries and concerns when you’re in the middle of singing your heart out.
Self-care is an important part of helping someone else who is going through a very difficult time. If you want to be the best support for someone else, then you should start by aiming to be your best.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people. If someone’s life is in danger, call 000.