This is adapted from www.bpdcentral.com (Borderline Personality Disorder) but may well be relevant to other situations too.
If the person appears to be about to make, or has made a suicide attempt, seek immediate help via ambulance, police or A&E. If they seriously want to die, or at least escape from their current distress, it can be really difficult to stop them and there are no guaranteed safe responses. You will become the best judge of their intentions, but call for help (and tell them you will call for help) if you are at all uncertain that they are safe.
After a time, you may feel that the suicide threats appear to be an attempt to scare you, or make you do something you don’t want to do. When this happens your sympathy and under-standing may begin to dissolve into anger, resentment and confusion – and often guilt.
Perhaps it feels as though the person is handing responsibility for their decision to you. “If you really wanted me to live you would come round now”. There can be a handing over of blame: “It will be your fault if I kill myself”. It is crucial to remember that you are not threatening to kill them -they are threatening suicide and need help.
Buying time by doing what they want works in the short term, but not if the situation is going to improve. These situations can be intense and there often doesn’t seem to be a
Suicide threats that seem to be used as threats are no-win situations.
Whether you go along with them or not, the risks should not be your responsibility alone, so talk to someone and get support as soon as you can.
The BPD Central website suggests that you refuse to take responsibility and that you:
• show you care and that you will support them.
• maintain your personal limits.
It is possible to do both even if the other person says you can’t. Hand the responsibility back while offering support and being clear you want them to choose not to commit suicide.
I’m not doing this to be cruel. I’m very sorry that this hurts you. If I were to do what you want now, that wouldn’t solve the problem. I know you realise our relationship shouldn’t be based on me being afraid of you dying, and you thinking you can’t make it without me. I care about you and I want you to live. But doing this won’t help you find what you are looking for, and I need some time to myself. I want you to find your own way forward, I will support you all I can but I cannot make it happen by myself. Whatever I do won’t be enough. You have to work on this yourself and use the help that’s there. Maybe you need to talk with other people in your life, how can I help with this?
- Arguing and long discussions about whether they are serious. You can escalate a situation to where they have to prove you wrong.
- Accusations of manipulation and power struggles over who ‘wins’.
- Giving in to threats. This won’t prove that you ‘really care’. A relationship based on threats will not be fair on either person. The Carer will be angry and resentful and the unwell person still unwell and likely to repeat the behavior, often many times.
These high risk situations can get worse before they get better, but entering into some kind of ‘pact’ with the person is not sustainable long term and is likely to postpone professional help being accepted. Getting support for yourself is absolutely vital. Would it be helpful to talk about it together with a third party, a MH practitioner or trusted relative perhaps?
Whatever you say should acknowledge that you take the suicide threats very seriously, offering to go with them to A&E if they are that distressed.
The message is that you are very concerned, you care a great deal but can’t cope with it alone, and you need to get professional help for them and for you.