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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    If you think someone is suicidal what is the best approach to confront them about it?

    My brother has been a damaged soul for quite some time after the death of his wife almost 5 years ago. I am worried he is suicidal and want to help him but i am unsure of the best way to approach the situation without pushing him away?
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  • My research interests include immunology and the mechanisms of amyloid formation. The latter has implications for people who are dealing with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease ... View Profile

    I am sorry to read about your brother - I have been in that dark place though not recently.

    The advice that my clinical psychologist gave me is that if somebody is having suicidal thoughts and has worked out a detailed plan/method then the only thing that matters is that s/he is in a safe place.

    As far as your brother is concerned, that means that if he ever has ideation and a method, call A&E of his nearest hospital (run, don't walk) and tell them all that you know - there will be health professionals there who can help him.

  • Dr Toni Metelerkamp

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Toni works with adults and couples, and specialises in diagnosing and treating anxiety (panic disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder), phobias, substance and gambling, addictions, suicide and ... View Profile

    Watching a loved one grieve is difficult and it is especially difficult if they look like they are becoming suicidal. Bear in mind though that in any one year, roughly 5% of the population entertain ideas about not being alive. For most people these are passing thoughts and not intense feelings that lead to definite plans. Many people are not comfortable talking to loved ones about suicide, but if you suspect they are thinking about it you will need navigate your discomfort and have a direct conversation. Raising the issue will in itself NOT cause suicidal feelings or thoughts. Instead, if you remain composed, in spite of your discomfort, you allow him the opportunity to talk openly.
    If he does open up, listen to him explain why he feels as he does. Acknowledge his feelings and only after you have given him an opportunity to talk and you have really listened, offer reassurance that things can be significantly better than they are right now. It may not be clear to you, or he, how that can happen, but a mental health professional can help him explore the alternatives.  
     
    Dr Simon Easterbrook is right; if you have any information that indicates a specific suicide plan you should remain with him and take action immediately. The first option is to ask him to see his GP and offer to go with him. Failing that, ask him if you can take him to your nearest Accident and Emergency Department. If he is unwilling to do either, you may need to call 000 for help and stay with him until help arrives.
     
    Best wishes.

  • It might be helpful to call a suicide helpline www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au to speak to a professional counsellor about how to approach your brother.  If he wants to speak to a counsellor on his own behalf he can always start with calling that line, too.  

  • Max is a consultant psychologist working in the public and private health sectors. He currently holds several appointments at Monash Health where he provides specialist ... View Profile

    Hi there,

    That's a great question. I would encourage them to speak to their GP as a priority.

    However, something you can do yourself is validate their feelings and help them to focus on the positive aspects of their life. If you can, try and orientate them to the future and the positive things that are an important reason to keep living. When people feel suicidal, they can often be expressing a desire to escape because they are overwhelmed. This is not always the case, but can often be part of it. Acknowledging this with your brother may be a good starting point, however I would recommend professional support by linking with your GP.

    If you are really concerned at any point, don't hesitate to contact emergency psychiatric services. These can be found by googling 'psychiatric triage' and your locality. This will put you through to a mental health clinician from your relative hospital who can triage your concern and arrange emergency support if needed.

    Best of luck,

    Max.

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