Don't nag or scold, just listen, say psychologists

One of the best things to do when dealing with a chronically suicidal family member is to listen.

Don't nag, advise or scold them.

If family members cannot refrain from nagging or berating him, they should get a neutral third party - a counsellor, a relative or close friend - to communicate with the suicidal family member, counsellors told The New Paper.

Said Singapore Children's Society's youth services director, Dr Carol Balhetchet: "Ask one question and wait for the information to come. It may not come immediately, so be patient.

"Sometimes, parents just want to talk and advise, and when there is no change in the situation, they say, 'Aiyah, my child is a problem.'"

Agreeing, psychologist Daniel Koh of private practice Insights Mind Centre, said: "A lot of times, the family doesn't understand the person and they put expectations on the victim.

"Let it go. Instead, listen.

"You don't have to talk. Just be there for them."

To do this, you have to create the environment or opportunity, said Dr Balhetchet, a clinical psychologist.

One way would be to start going for walks together and making the walks a "habit".

"Let the person talk. The silence might be awkward, never mind, one day you'll get an answer," she said.

Agreeing, Mr Koh said it was important to give the suicidal family member a "sense of support, so that he or she will feel safe".

Said Mr Koh: "Suicidal people are very sensitive.

"They can tell if you're pretending or genuine, so if you can't stop yourself from scolding them, get a neutral third party who will not judge or label them."

Mr Koh noted that often, families start out with "a lot of concern", then after multiple suicide attempts, they get "numb".

He said: "They get frustrated and even threaten the person to snap out of it without understanding the cause of the problem.

"This could make the person depressed and the person could revert to taking drastic measures."

On the rise

Suicide attempts are on the rise here, although statistics from the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) indicate that the number of people who succeed in their bids is falling, The Straits Times reported.

In 2010, 966 people were arrested for attempting suicide, up from 842 the year before.

SOS figures calculated the suicide rate here to be 7.85 suicides for every 100,000 people in 2010, down from 9.35 in 2009.

Overall, 353 people killed themselves here in 2010 and 401 did so the year before.

Dr Brian Yeo, a consultant psychiatrist at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, told The New Paper that families of chronically suicidal family members are often "caught in a bind".

He said: "Do they react every time he or she threatens to commit suicide? Do they keep watch over them or is this just a cry for help?

"But then again, just because he or she didn't commit suicide the first two times, doesn't mean it won't happen on the third."

One way to judge whether the suicide threat is serious is to look at the attempt itself, Dr Yeo said.

For instance, did the person take just a few pills or was it an overdose?

Did the person slit his wrists or try to jump off a building? These are serious indicators, he said.

The other important gauge is whether the suicide attempt was planned.

"Did they buy certain things before the event, like bleach? Did they leave a note? Did they try to avoid the discovery of their intentions?" he said.

But these are just a guide, Dr Yeo stressed.

All three experts advise family members that the safety of the suicidal family member is paramount and to call the authorities for help when dealing with a suicide attempt.

Helplines

Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

Care Corner Mandarin Counselling Centre: 1800-353-5800

estherng@sph.com.sg

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