"Are you feeling suicidal?"
Suicide can be a difficult topic to talk about. Just hearing the word “suicide” is enough to make some uncomfortable. I have worked with many people experiencing crisis and thoughts of suicide... But for me, it was a very different feeling navigating the topic of suicide with someone I love.
One day, I saw that there was a comic book convention in a small town about an hour away. I asked one of my friends to go, and he said he wasn’t into comic books, but that I should ask another friend of ours who was going through a difficult time after his divorce. I asked that friend and his response was “I have nothing better to do, so sure.”
We met up at the comic book convention, then walked around and hung out all day. Later we drove around, and he shared with me that he had recently attempted suicide. He said that he felt hopeless and he just wanted to end his life. He said that he did call a hotline because that felt like the right thing to do, but no one picked up so he proceeded with his plan. I thanked him for sharing with me and asked him if he was still struggling with thoughts of suicide. He said he was thinking about killing himself this weekend, but instead chose to hang out and go to the comic book convention with me and was glad he did. He said he had not talked to anyone about it; he was embarrassed because he “failed at life and even failed at trying to end [his] life.”
Fast forward to a few months later, when our friendship blossomed into a romantic relationship. We were both divorced and both of us were in counseling. He was taking medications, but he didn’t like the side effects, so he stopped taking them. Throughout our relationship, he has struggled with depression. We decided to talk about what his red flags looked like and how I could best support him when he was struggling.
One winter, he began to show signs of depression. He was struggling with daily tasks that came so easily to him before. I approached him, and asked “How are you feeling?” He told me he was not doing well. Though I was learning more about how to address suicidality, I felt the immediate need to “fix” it and to “fix'' him.
I set that urge aside; I’d learned that you must ask the individual directly if they want to kill themselves (as counterintuitive as that felt for me). So I asked. He said yes. I asked if he had a plan. His coping skill is using humor; he laughed and said, “Plenty of them.” I asked if he would share that plan with me; he shared it with me. We talked about it, and he agreed he needed to get back into counseling. I knew my job as a partner (and even as a mental health professional) wasn’t to “fix” him—instead, I was there to support him.
Throughout the relationship he has struggled with chronic thoughts of suicide. We have the hotline posted in case he does not want to talk to me about it. We made a crisis plan together. I have learned that his thoughts of suicide have nothing to do with me personally. Prior to writing this I spoke with him about writing this. He said he also felt it was important to talk about. As a partner of someone struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, it can be difficult, and you can feel helpless at times. You will want to “fix it,” and may take their thoughts and feelings personally.
With a new perspective on my partner’s struggles and the tools I can use to address them, I feel more confident about it today. “Are you suicidal?” is the hardest question I’ll ever ask anyone. But when it has the potential to save the life of the person I love, it is also the most important one I’ll ever ask.
*Originally published by WEconnect Health Management, written by Jenn J.