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What to Do if Your Spouse is Suicidal

by
author image Kate Cummins, PsyD
Kate Cummins, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in health and neuropsychology. She works with brain injury in the acute hospital setting. She also has two private practice locations in San Francisco and Los Angeles, working with athletes in sports psychology, as well as women’s issues: infertility, depression, anxiety and life transitions.
What to Do if Your Spouse is Suicidal
Help is out there. Photo Credit: @edric via Twenty20

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Association of Suicidology. It is a very confusing issue for individuals who are in the middle of this type of crisis, for both family members as well as the person who is having thoughts or feelings connected to suicide. As a spouse of someone who is suicidal, you may feel completely alone. You may feel like your partner is no longer the person you’ve been in a relationship with. You may feel responsible for the emotional and physical well-being of your spouse, which creates high levels of stress and concern in your own functioning. This article addresses key topics that can help you when your spouse is suicidal.

1. Monitor your spouse’s risk factors

There are several warning signs of individuals who are having thoughts of suicide that should be monitored. If you believe your spouse is suicidal, check in with these warning signs and start keeping track of them daily. Your spouse may express loss of interest in daily activities, hopelessness, helplessness, or have symptoms of depression and/or a history of depression. You may see changes in his or her personality, including making risky behavioral choices, an increase in substance use, or your partner may seem uninterested in making future plans with you or with others. Your spouse may give away important possessions he or she used to value highly, or make statements such as “You’ll be fine without me” or “When I’m not around anymore”. If your spouse is showing signs of these risk factors, make sure to track the frequency and seek professional help.

2. Find mental health providers your spouse can open up to

It is crucial during sensitive time periods in life to be connected to the right resources. When your child goes to school, you want the best teachers. When you decide to buy a house, you want the one that is best for your budget. Finding a mental health professional for your spouse should be as logical as those topics. The stigma associated with seeking mental health help may deter your spouse from wanting to find a clinician, but you must get professional support. Treatment including psychotropic medications provided by a psychiatrist, as well as traditional psychotherapy from a psychologist or master’s level mental health professional should be a non-negotiable topic in your relationship. There are resources readily available in your community with people trained specifically to help you and your spouse during a time like this. Call the local hospital to get referrals, or call your insurance provider to get linked in to the right resources for your loved one. You can’t do this alone, and need a team of people helping your spouse through this challenging time.

3. Use your social network for support

The most important thing for you to know is that you’re not alone. If your spouse has expressed suicidal thoughts, you must get professional and social support. Oftentimes, a spouse will ask you to keep his or her feelings sheltered from your community, but this is not a topic that you need to isolate from others. You need as much help in your network as you can get, so that your significant other is not only supported, but has others invested in the challenging emotions and thoughts he or she is experiencing. Ask your spouse who they feel comfortable sharing information with. Set up a meeting with your extended family or in-laws. Meet your spouse and his or her friends for a discussion regarding this topic and address the emotions that your significant other is experiencing. Tell the HR department or a trusted employee or boss at your significant other’s place of employment. It is necessary to have a full community of people invested in your significant other’s well-being to support him or her during this challenging time. Although your significant other may get upset with you, social support is a necessity.

4. Check in regularly with emotional well-being

It’s important to not only monitor your spouse’s risk factors, but have open discussions multiple times a day with him or her to check in with emotional well-being. When you direct these type of conversations, be purposeful in the content of discussion. Ask direct questions about how he or she feels. Ask direct questions about whether there is a specific plan in place or whether he or she has future plans for behavioral choices. Avoid casting judgment or your own emotions into this specific discussion. The less judged your spouse feels, the more apt he or she is to open up and share details that you probably were unaware of. It is also important that you find your own help through mental health professionals and your social network to process the impact of your spouse’s suicidal ideation on your own emotions.

5. Know your resources

There are several resources that are beneficial for you and your spouse. Provide your spouse with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800)273-8255. Use community resources including the American Association of Suicidology (202)237-2280, www.suicidology.org or American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (888)333-2377, www.afsp.org. Call your nearest hospital or mental health clinic and share your story to get networked and linked to the right professional care. You and your spouse are not alone in this journey. Although you may feel very lost and isolated, there are people and resources around you that can help with making a change for your spouse’s life.

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