Use Humor, Wisely
When people are feeling suicidal, they’ve usually been stuck in their own heads and taking their thoughts and pain very seriously. Whether they know it or not, they’re desperate for a fresh angle on their situation. Part of the gift you can offer them is the levity you immediately have by being outside of their mental ruts.
This is only effective and healthy when done after hearing and empathizing with the person’s true feelings. It’s also best when done with love, rather than dutifully trying to lighten the mood. Another poor response people have due to emotional issues is to be the uplifting mascot, who immediately tries to avoid the situation by lightening the mood and being forcibly cheerful, or comedic. This just feels fake and is extremely unhelpful.
Humor shouldn’t be used as a tactic to leapfrog the person’s emotional reality. It should be a genuine afterthought that comes from the heart. If it feels right to do, helping the person get a few good laughs can help relieve a ton of pressure and lighten their load.
One of the more recent times a friend came to me to get support, this exact approach worked wonders.
I first sat in silence, heard him out, and empathized with everything he was going through. He was having serious health battles, felt socially isolated and like no one cared. He was dealing with more pain than he knew how to cope with. Given all the data, it made complete sense to feel that way. I related with my own experiences of sitting on the brink of suicide, gave him my love and my word that I’d do anything I could to help.
After all that, I started poking fun at some of his trains of thought and put on an exaggerated impersonation of the dark, negative inner dialogue they’d been listening to. Suddenly, he went from crying tears of pain to tears of laughter in a matter of seconds. He hadn’t felt that way in weeks.
When we finished the conversation, the issue didn’t suddenly resolve or end on a high note. But we had connected so thoroughly that I was able to make him feel seen, heard, loved and supported. I checked in with him every few days after that, make time to hang out, and that person is still here, grateful, and doing better than ever.
It’s very likely this person and the conversation will be on your mind non-stop once you finish it. For both of you, it’s smart to establish a loose agreement for follow up contact. This way, you can put any voice in the back of your mind that’s worry about hassling them, or being overbearing, to rest.
How often would it feel good for you to check-in? How will you do that? Offer support in whatever way you authentically want to (which could be as simple as sending a text every day, calling or watching a movie once a week, or going to their home to cook them a healthy dinner and staying the night) and see how they might best feel supported in this time. What do they need/want from you? What would make them feel best supported?
The person probably won’t be able to think much further past that moment, given how much mental effort it took to even open up in the first place. But there’s a chance they might be able to tune into what might make them feel better.
Regular phone calls offer more connection than text messages, with in-person visits obviously being the best option.
If that initial conversation impacted you, or if it made you think, or inspired you in some way, tell them when you’re catching up. Let them know how it made you feel to go through the process and have them open up to you, or take you to such a raw place. Be engaged and share in the development of the situation with them.
“If someone listens, or stretches out a hand, or whispers a word of encouragement, or attempts to understand a lonely person, extraordinary things begin to happen.” – Loretta Girzartis
Let them feel honored for having reached out, and safe and encouraged to continue to share themselves. This is the biggest part of this process. Be present, drop into your heart, give love, and you will go far beyond saving a life, to transforming it. If you truly open yourself to this, you’ll find yourself deeply transformed as well.