We have likely all experienced a time when we’ve noticed something “off” about someone we care for. It can often be unclear as to what our role is when we make this observation, but when our gut gets moving, I think it’s important to take action! It could be something simply, like your friend is having a bad day. Or, it could be that this person is genuingly in trouble and thinking of something like suicide.
Do you say something? Do you leave them alone to handle what they need to? Depending on your relationship with the person, you may say something immediately or wait until later.
The fact of the matter is, we don’t know until we ask how we may be of help to that person, if they are indeed distraught in any way. If this is as far as you’ve gotten, or find it hard to have these conversations with loved ones (or anyone else for that matter), here are some things to consider:
- Consider your surroundings. Try to initiate this conversation in a private place, if possible, to respect the privacy of the person you’re talking to. They may want to share with you, but not anyone else you’re with at that time. But, be direct and simply ask, “Are you okay?
- Don’t assume. Assuming there is something wrong can often be off-putting to some or may lead to misinterpreted feelings that may go on to affect interactions with that person. The best first step is to either point out what makes you wonder about how that person feels, or by simply asking “How are you doing today?” Some examples might be to be direct but sensitive by asking, “Susan, you seem low today, is that true?” O“Frank, I can’t help but notice that you’re not talking much today. Is there something wrong?”
- Think of what you have to offer. It’s important to know what you can do in that moment. In other words, what are you offering to the person you’re inquiring about? Are you available to talk right now or can you provide support at a later time for this person? Sometimes with the first question individuals will go on into what is wrong. In this moment, it is important to offer as much support as you feel comfortable. If you’re short on time, offer a phone call or a meeting over coffee at a later time letting that person know that it’s important to you to hear their story.
- Give your time and ear. While I can’t speak for everyone, I’d say the majority of people really do want to feel cared for and supported by others. When you offer support even if it’s just to listen to their troubles, worries, or concerns, you give them satisfaction in that area and most importantly, you’re spreading the love. Keep in mind, some people need or want help with solving a problem while others do not! Be sure to ask the person how you can be of most help. For example, “Chris, I want to be sure to give you the support you need. Would you like for me to listen or do you need help finding a solution?”
- Take action. When the conversation starts, be sure to listen to the person without worry about what the “right” or “wrong” thing to say to them is in the moment. Giving them your focus allows them to feel heard. There are times where the people we talk to may be struggling more than you know. If this individual endorses signs or language indicative of suicidal ideation, it can be very important to clarify. For example, “Alex, you’re saying things like ‘I just don’t know how I can go on’. Are you thinking about suicide/ending your life?” If this person says yes, try to connect them to any resources you’re aware of to ensure their safety while continuing to communicate your support. Follow-up. After you’ve spent time helping or listening to the concerns of the individual, it can be just as important or meaningful to follow-up with this person. Reach out or check-in with them the next time you see them to let them know you care and want to see them get to a more content state. This communicates that they openness you shared with them was not a one-time-thing.
You may not be a therapist officially, but everyone can provide a caring, listening ear to someone. You have the ability to spread love, kindness, and support just by listening to your gut and being available.
1-800-273-8255 (National Suicide Prevention Hotline)