“Whoever slays a soul, it is as though he has slain all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he has kept alive all men.”
There is no greater indicator of unhappiness than suicide. With World Suicide Prevention day on the 10th of September, the above verse of the Qur’ān seems fitting.
The subject of suicide naturally carries a stigma. The idea of life becoming so unbearable that one is willing to kill themselves is a difficult concept for most of us to digest. Many people who experience suicidal ideations suffer in silence. So what can we do to help those who are experiencing difficult times and are contemplating suicide?
The first thing is to encourage them to talk about their feelings. Listen without judgment. Try and understand their perspective. Keep in mind that you do not need to fully agree or understand why they feel the way they do. You probably will not be able to fully grasp what they are going through, but your presence and ability to care can make all the difference.
A common misconception is that talking about suicide with someone who is going through difficulties will plant seeds into their mind. This is not true. There is nothing wrong with asking, “Do you have any plans to take your own life?” This allows the person to distinguish between fleeting thoughts and serious plans. It also allows the listener to better understand where the person is at present, as well as their ability to help.
If a person is having serious thoughts of suicide, explore those feelings with them. Ask them questions like, “Have you ever felt like this before? What did you do to feel better that time? What things can you do this time to make yourself feel better?” Try and take them for a walk in a park, or engage with them in other forms of recreation.
Give them hope. Remember: after hardship comes ease. Life is an accumulation of moments that we have labelled as good or bad. There are moments that can last minutes, and other moments that may last months or years. It is important to remember that difficult moments will always end. No matter how dark it feels, ease will come. The chances are that they too have lived this and have their own examples. If you can help them identify their own examples and find their inner strength, then you have done some of the work of a therapist.
Explore with them their protective factors. You may ask them, “What is stopping you from taking your life?” I have had a number of clients who have expressed suicidal thoughts. Many of them have highlighted protective factors such as their religion, family, or friends as reasons that have and will prevent them from taking their lives. Allow them to talk about these aspects.
Encourage them to focus on the present day rather than the future. A person experiencing such heavy feelings may feel trapped and believe that suicide is the only escape. The future therefore becomes unimaginable and bleak.
Encourage them to seek professional help, such as by visiting their GP or a counsellor. Counselling can help a person explore their history and allow them to process their underlying pain. This can help someone to adjust their narrative, improve their relationship with themselves, and experience life in a healthier way. Other forms of help include speaking to family, friends, or specialist mental health organisations. The important thing is to encourage them to seek help in a way that they are most comfortable with.
If someone is at immediate risk, do not leave them alone. Assess and utilise the support network that both you and they have available, such as family and friends. There are different services available depending on the area you live in, and these can be found through a quick search online. If someone is in immediate danger, call 999. Out-of-hours services such as 111 can also be contacted for advice regarding urgent medical issues that you are not sure what to do about. Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is an organisation for men that can be called between 5pm to midnight every day. Papyrus is another organisation that helps people under the age of 35.
When helping someone who is at risk of suicide, the most important thing is to remain empathetic and to stay with them. Your presence and expressions of care may be all that they need. Provide hope as things are always hard before they become easy, and seek professional help when needed.
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 Al-Qur’ān, 5:32
 Rethink Mental Illness. Suicidal thoughts – How to support someone. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.rethink.org/advice-and-information/carers-hub/suicidal-thoughts-how-to-support-someone/ [Accessed 9th September 2020]
The views expressed on Islam21c and its connected channels do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation.