On World Suicide Prevention Day, Marianne Oakes, GenderGP Head of Counselling Services, writes about her work in supporting trans people when they’re feeling at their lowest, along with some suggestions on how to respond to someone exhibiting signs of suicidal thoughts.
As a trans woman and a counsellor specialising in the care of transgender and gender non-conforming people, I have been in and among the trans community for over half my life. As a result, suicide as a concept has always been present in my awareness.
The issue is that we, as a community, have become desensitised to the subject because, for many transgender people, its just part of the conversation we have on a regular basis.
For the most part, it is suicidal ideation. Going through the thought process of wishing we were not here, living on this earth. Imagining the notion that all of our troubles would disappear, if we shut our eyes and never opened them again. Luckily, from my experience at least, it rarely progresses beyond this.
As a counsellor it is not unusual to have to sit with people’s suicide ideation in the therapy room and we have to be careful and not over dramatise these thoughts and escalate them beyond what they are. Our skill is our ability to truly listen to the person in front of us who is suffering, and separate a cry for help from real intent.
Of course, while this is a difficult part of our role, our extensive training prepares us for such challenges. It allows us to look for signs that further help is needed, but this can be incredibly difficult if the person in question is reaching out to a loved one.
If you are supporting someone who is struggling and they are expressing suicidal thoughts here are some ways in which you might be able to help:
1) Truly listen
Suicide happens for many reasons, just because a transgender/ gender nonconforming person has been struggling with their transition does not automatically mean their gender identity is a cause for these suicidal feelings, but equally they may be a contributing factor. Do not presume to know what is causing their distress. Instead, truly listen to what they have to say.
2) Stay close…but not too close
If you have a friend or loved one you have concerns about, stay close. Do not smother them, but be available when they are in need. Your role is not to fix the situation. Just be a good listener sit with their feelings if they wish to share them. Try to resist the urge to rationalise everything and make sense of it, as this can add to the confusion and chaos.
3) Empathy can make all the difference
Pouring love and sympathy on to a suicidal person is not always what they need, if only it was that simple. Empathy is a powerful tool to have and express, showing someone you feel their pain allows you and them to discuss everything with a deeper understanding of the issue. Empathy also shows you believe them, that you understand what they are experiencing.
4) Try not to over identify
Sharing your experiences and explaining how you dealt with a similar issue or situation may make you feel better, but it may suggest that you are judging their handling of the situation negatively, which may lead to feelings of inadequacy on their part.
5) Be present
Sometimes, as hard as it might be, we have to accept that suicide is an autonomous choice, the ultimate life choice for those experiencing it. Be prepared not to be able to help. This is not an easy fix. Just be there, listen and support.
Remember, sometimes the situation demands professional help. Counsellors are trained to sit with people during their darkest hours. There are also many support groups out there including the Samaritans who are an incredible resource for people in need.
While for many transgender people, counselling is where they turn when they are their lowest ebb, at GenderGP we believe therapy should be the first line of support. As effective as it can be for many people in the depths of despair, it is equally effective as a preventative measure.
If you have been affected by any of the issues covered in this blog post and you would like to speak to a member of the GenderGP counselling team, email: firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment. If you are feeling suicidal and in urgent need of support you can call the Samaritans on: 116 123 or contact them here