One of my clients has a friend who became suicidal last week. Her friend has always been a happy person, but was overwhelmed by seasonal depression very fast and had to go to the hospital voluntarily to stay safe. My client was understandably upset about this – this friend has been her anxiety coach and they practice exposures together outside of therapy appointments. This hospitalization was a huge shift. The one who had been offering help was now the person my client visited in the hospital.
My client had a range of thoughts:
• Should I have seen the signs of this coming?
• Was there something I could have done to prevent this from happening?
• What questions should I ask her now to be helpful?
Families and friends dealing with a person in crisis need support and information, and pulling these resources together for my client made me think about how all clinicians need to have information readily available.
The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) has a wonderful series of pages to help family members and caregivers. They have helpful advice on the “Preventing Suicide” page, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
The HelpGuide.org has another great page to educate friends and family, including common misconceptions about suicide.
For clinicians, I recommend a book by a man who was one of my supervisors during my field placement:
Managing Suicidal Risk: A Collaborative Approach by David A. Jobes, Ph.D.
The book offers worksheets you can photocopy and use immediately with a client. I especially like the way Dr. Jobes asks you to pull up a chair to a table with the client next to you and the worksheet in front of you to work on together. He offers sample scripts to help start the conversation and guidance about how to proceed.
Next week my client will go meet with her friend with her psychiatrist in the hospital and learn how she can help her former anxiety coach. This beautifully illustrates how we all support each other and how at one time or another we all need help.