This blog entry is written with the intention of providing serious and helpful information for anyone faced with a friend, family member, or a loved one that is threatening suicide. A threat like this should ALWAYS be taken seriously.
About 80% of people who attempt or complete suicide have sent out warning signs to those people who are closest to them. They may not make a direct plea for help, so knowing some potential warning signs is in order. These may include:
- Talking about dying
- Joking about death
- Giving away possessions
- Making a will
- Getting their life “in order”
- Writing a suicide note
- Stockpiling medications
- Being in possession of a weapon
- Being depressed for a period of time
- Significant recent losses
- A serious health threat
- Loss of financial security
- Low self-esteem
- Expressions of hopelessness
- High risk activity
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Low energy/lethargy
- Lack of focus
- Sleeping more than usual
- Agitation, mood swings, rage, grief
How you react to an immediate suicide threat may stop the worst from happening. Clear thinking and decisive action will be required.
- Remain calm. Speak in a non-threatening and soft manner
- Do not leave the person alone until help arrives
- Try to keep them calm
- If the person is already under psychiatric care, contact their physician immediately
- Call 911 or take the person to an Emergency room
- Ask the person to give you any weapons or medications that they may have
- Keep yourself safe
- Let someone know where you are and what is happening
Now that these things have been said, my blog articles are about toxic relationship issues. So, what do you do when you want to break up with someone, and they threaten suicide? This response may be caused by mental illness. Take their threat seriously. Do not assume that they are bluffing, and act accordingly.
This threat, however, may be made to keep you in the relationship. Threatening suicide is an abusive way of controlling someone. This is most often a part of a pattern of emotional and psychological abuse. Don’t be pulled into it. You do not have to give in to them to prevent a tragedy.
Breaking up is difficult under normal circumstances, and a suicide threat can make this seem like an impossible situation. If this is a manipulation, recognize that this person is using emotional blackmail to gain power over your actions. They realize that any good person would hate to be the cause of someone else taking their life.
Their first response may be to try to convince you of “how much they truly love you”, in the hope that you will change your mind if only they can persuade you.
See the manipulation in this tactic. There are ways that you can minimize their risk of harming themself, while still enabling yourself to get free of the relationship. You need to be strong. You are doing this for your own emotional health.
You must gently let them know that you are not going to change your mind. Maintain your boundaries. Be kind, but restate your reasons for wanting to leave the relationship. You must be prepared to leave immediately because any stalling on your part will give the person reason to hope you will change your mind. You must be ready to walk out the door and never come back.
You might try telling a friend or a family member that you plan to break up with the person, and ask them to be present so there is emotional support available after you leave. Do not leave the person unsupervised, but don’t think that you are the only person that can remain with them. You do not want them to think that they can manipulate you in this way. It sets a bad precedent for future interactions that may need to happen.
If you feel that there is immediate danger, call 911. Do not worry that you may have misread the situation, as it is always better to err on the side of safety.
Emphasize that you care about the person even though you are leaving. You have spent time together. Some of it must have been good. Let them know that you do not want them to hurt themselves.
Try to focus on “I” statements and not on “you” statements. Your feelings and emotions matter. State them gently. Do not get into an argument or take on intimidating body language, which will only serve to escalate the situation.
If the person tells you that it will “be your fault” if they harm themself, do not “take the bait”. Gently restate that you do not want them to harm themself, but make it clear that the choice would be entirely theirs, and that you will not take ownership of it.
Remind them that they have friends and family members that will be willing to provide support for them during this difficult time. Name them, because the person may not be thinking clearly and may forget the support systems that already exist in their life.
Help the person find resources that will help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is free, confidential, and staffed 24/7. Their phone number is (800) 273-8255. Outside of the U.S., resources can be found on Wikipedia. If the person does not want to speak directly with hotline personnel, texting is available on Crisischat.org, and is available from 2:00 p.m.to 2:00 a.m. Monday through Sunday. Sunday is statistically a very difficult day for someone who is suicidal.
Get to a safe place if you feel in danger. Threats of suicide can escalate fast to violence. If there is any history of violence, then breaking up with them via text, email or telephone might be your best option. In these cases, if they threaten suicide, try to find out their location before calling the police. Do not let them know that you are seeking help. Make your own safety your first priority.
Remember that you are not responsible for anything that the person does. Their actions are NOT your fault. You may feel guilty, and if so, seek the help of a counselor or a life coach.
Remind yourself why the breakup was necessary. You are not going to sacrifice your life in order to keep someone else alive. Now, move on and do not look back. Remove them from your social media accounts, and you might even consider removing any mutual friends from your social media. It is easy to get into your site through a mutual friend’s site. Ask mutual friends to not talk to you about your ex. Do not attend functions where you might run into your ex, or frequent spots you used to enjoy together.
If you need to remain in contact with your ex (i.e.: you share children), find only one way that you can remain in contact. Texting or email are much less apt to be confrontational or manipulative than a phone conversation.
Always remember that staying in an emotionally abusive relationship will slowly eat away at your own mental health. A person can tell you that “things will change”, that “they will change”, and they may……in the short term. But once they begin to be comfortable that you are not leaving, they will revert to the same person that you already know that you must leave. No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to “fix” an emotionally abusive person.
Know that you tried. Know that you did your best. Now it is time to move on. If threats of suicide were a manipulation, they will fade over time.