Note: If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911. For support with suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 800-273-8255.
Coping When a Family Member Has Suicidal Thoughts
Sibling relationships can be so special and close. But when your brother or sister is struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, it's natural to wonder: what can I do, and why is this happening?
We got a message from someone recently with another important question that may be on your mind. too:
"I love my sister and I'm worried about her. She is acting differently and saying way darker and more negative things than she normally does. I want to help her, but I also want to be there for my mom and dad. I'm close to my parents, and it seems like they might not know what to do either.
How can I support my parents while my sibling is suicidal? Is there anything I can do to keep this from getting worse?"
My heart goes out to this person and anyone who is struggling with a sibling who feels like they want to die by suicide. If you're going through this, you don't have to do this without support. I admire you for wanting to help your parents. Here are some suggestions for how you can work together and talk through things as a family so that everyone feels more supported.
Understanding the Warning Signs
When processing someone's struggle with suicidal thoughts, a good starting place is to talk to their close friends and family members about the warning signs of suicide and suicidal intentions. No one person is going to see all the warning signs, but if everyone is making an effort to be aware, you and your parents may spot red flags more regularly. Bridges to Recovery suggests being on the lookout for:
- Changing Behavior: If you and your parents notice your sibling has withdrawn from family and social circles, if their personal interactions have a different mood, or if they've completely lost interest in activities, they may be having suicidal thoughts. They may state those intentions directly, by saying things like, “I wish I were dead” or “Things would be better without me,” so it's important to take statements like that seriously.
- Self-Harming: Your sibling doesn't have to be cutting to be harming themselves. If they're misusing alcohol or abusing drugs, or making other risky, harmful choices around food, basic needs, and personal safety, then your sister or brother might be feeling suicidal.
- Making "Final Arrangements": If your sibling is talking about "life after them" or "life without them" or has tried to give away things you know they find valuable or cherish, they may be having suicidal ideations.
Sharing these warning signs with your parents might help them be more aware of the impact of suicidal thoughts. That awareness is a form of support, since it helps them understand why your sibling might be behaving differently, but it's important not to overwhelm them. There's more you can do to offer support that doesn't center around the pain you're experiencing.
Reach Out and Talk
Once your parents understand that your sibling is struggling with suicidal thoughts, they'll likely want to spend more time with you and your sibling. Do what you can to make yourself available to talk, whether it's by phone, by video, or at a family dinner. You don't need to rearrange your whole schedule, but make an effort to check-in, and to spend quality time with your mom and dad however you can. If you're not sure what to say, what's going on with your sibling doesn't have to dominate the conversation, you can:
- Talk about what's going on at school
- What you and your friends have been up to
- What you've been reading or hobbies you enjoy
- What you'd like to do in the future
Your parents will be encouraged to know what has been going well in your life, how you're following your dreams, and what you're looking forward to about the future. It doesn't undo the struggle your sibling is having, but it can help them remain more joyful and hopeful in the face of a difficult situation.
Help Out When You Can
If you still live with your parents, helping out as best you are able can go a long way toward easing their minds and relieving some of their stress.
- Are there chores that need to be done around the house?
- Do they need help running errands?
- Is there a project they want to tackle that you can help with?
Offer a helping hand to your parents whenever you have some extra time. It will encourage them, and it's a great way to express love and gratitude for all the ways they have supported you over the years.
Offer to Support Your Sibling
Supporting your sibling who is suicidal doesn't mean solving all their problems or getting rid of their suicidal thoughts. You can offer gentle support in other ways that feel healthy and safe to you. Here are some things that could look like:
- "I know things are hard right now. I am here for you, and this tough time won't last forever."
- "Your feelings of pain are valid, but they are manageable. I can connect you with some support groups or give you the number to a 24/7 suicide prevention hotline."
- "I don't want you to feel judged or ashamed of the struggles you're having. I love you very much, and I want to be there for you."
- "I've been thinking about some of my favorite memories growing up. What's the most fun you can remember us having as kids?"
Sometimes asking, "how can I help?" or "is there anything I can do?" is a simple way to let your sibling know you're there for them.
Know when You Need Support Yourself
I really admire you for wanting to support your parents through your sibling's struggle with suicidal thoughts. But I want to caution you, it's easy to become overwhelmed or to feel like you've taken on too much if you spend a lot of time talking to someone who's struggling to see the value of life. If it ever feels like too much, support is available for you.
Remember, supporting your brother or sister is your choice, but preventing all their pain is not something you can do. You can be responsible TO them by being available, but you are not responsible FOR them. The feelings they have and how they cope with them are their responsibility.
When things in my life, or with my loved ones, overpower me, I reach out to God in prayer. Does it help to know God loves you unconditionally and that his power is greater than everything you, your parents, or your sibling are facing? If so, praying for peace of mind, for greater hope, or for relief for your sibling can be very helpful.
Along with talking to God, there are people available to help you and your sibling, right now, without judgment. You can talk to a HopeCoach for confidential email or chat mentoring. Open up about what's difficult and what support you need. We are here for you and for your sibling if they need it. We believe there is always hope, and we will do whatever we can to support you and your family.