Sometimes on reflection I realise something I said may have been more harmful than helpful. If this happens, l always seek to “check in” about it later with the person. Ask an open question when you’re checking in, so you don’t bias their response, e.g. “do you remember when I said... how did that land for you?” If they let you know something upset them, then it is an opportunity to apologise and heal any rift caused between you.
If they’re not ready to open up, you could make it easier for them to contact you in the future, e.g. “I’m here for you, and I’m a phone call away if you ever want to talk”.
Advanced Tip: Acknowledge the advantages and usefulness of a point of view before challenging it.
Most of the time there are at least a few aspects of what someone is saying that are useful. However, other parts of what they’re saying may be contributing to the problems they’re experiencing. It is important to first identify the useful parts by pointing them out to the person. Acknowledging the truth of someone’s experience helps them see that you understand and respect them, which may help them accept your challenges to the aspects of their point of view that you think are less useful.
If they can keep the useful parts and modify the problematic parts then the result will most likely be a more balanced and healthy point of view.
Talking about suicide
People commonly think about suicide when they’re having a tough time. It is really supportive to keep calm and level headed if someone brings up suicidal thoughts. More often than not people won’t be planning to act on their thoughts. It is helpful for people to talk about their suicidal thoughts without feeling judged, or having you jump into panic mode, because it helps them realise that thinking about suicide is a normal part of coping.
If there is any reason to suspect someone is likely to attempt suicide imminently or has a method planned that is likely to be effective then it is important to act. Call 111 or go to your nearest emergency department (ED). There are also other options available to consider on the Mental Health Foundation’s website: https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/get-help/in-crisis/
If the person you’re supporting is not planning to act on their thoughts, ask them questions to explore what is going on behind their thoughts - “what is causing the pain that you want to escape from?” It is helpful to talk about the people and activities in the person’s life that are likely to keep them safe. It is also useful to provide your phone number and ask the person to promise to call you if they find themselves going beyond thinking to taking action. You may be able to support them to get professional help before a crisis occurs - I recommend the following two search engines to find a psychologist, or talking to your GP about local therapy options.
New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists
Find a Psychologist
Sometimes people won’t bring up thoughts of suicide without being prompted because they’re worried that they could be sent to hospital. I’ve found that if I’m concerned someone is thinking about suicide, then they usually are. People will feel more comfortable to talk about suicidal thoughts if you confidently ask them if they’ve been thinking this way; it shows them that it’s a normal response to their situation.
I believe good support boils down to being there for someone, creating a comfortable space, and sharing feelings in a genuine way. We absolutely need more support to take place at a community level if we want to see mental health and well-being to improve in Aotearoa. Get out there and support a mate, don’t be afraid to ask for a help, and let’s create a more supportive culture together.
Let us know in the comments if you tried any of these tips, and how they went! We'd also love to hear if there's anything you'd like for us to go deeper on.
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