Building a Sense of Belonging to Prevent Suicides

Date Posted

September 6, 2022


Arielle Cohen

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If you or someone you know is suicidal, seek immediate help. Call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. Find more resources for getting help here.

Caregivers, did you know your connection to your loved one can be a crucial element of suicide prevention? Researchers agree that establishing healthy, caring relationships can be a strong buffer against suicide. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s model of suicide prevention focuses on promoting individual, family, and community connectedness.

Many people struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts experience the feeling that they don’t belong (often referred to as “thwarted belongingness”). You might hear your loved one say things like “I feel so alone,” “No one ever enjoys spending time with me,” or “I have no friends. What’s the point?” In combination with other warning signs, these statements are red flags that your loved one may be at an increased risk for suicide.

Feeling close to others is an essential part of mental health and wellness. We all share a basic need to be cared for and accepted. This sense of belonging helps us feel like there is a safe place for us in the world.

Social supports can be a protective factor against suicide because they

  • promote a sense of self-worth
  • encourage social norms that support the use of healthy coping skills
  • increase the number of people available to notice warning signs.

Intentionally creating opportunities to feel connected to others can promote your and your loved one’s overall health. Read on for ways you can help your loved ones feel a sense of belonging.

Engage in activities that build meaningful social connections

Man and Woman High Five Rock WallDepression can lead to isolation. It’s hard to feel like you fit in if you are withdrawing from activities or disconnecting from your community. Encouraging activities that help your loved one interact with others in a meaningful way can help them establish healthy and nourishing relationships.

A good place to start is to join hobby or affinity groups. Interacting with people who share your loved one’s interests creates an easier pathway toward friendship. Here are some activities you might suggest to your loved one:

  • Engaging with local clubs or hobby groups (Polish-American Club, knitting circle, etc.)
  • Performing with a choir, band, or theater group
  • Playing sports or joining a dance class
  • Volunteering (food bank, speakers’ program, working with animals, etc.)
  • Joining a religious or spiritual community (synagogue, youth group, mindfulness center)
  • Attending support groups locally or online

Work on Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills

Therapy SessionDoes your loved one struggle to initiate or maintain friendships? They may need to develop practical skills to form strong and healthy relationships. Maintaining or building friendships can become more difficult when symptoms of depression — like low self-worth, problems with organization, increased irritability, inability to get out of bed, or lack of hygiene — get in the way.

Having Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills can make a difference. These skills come from Dialectical Behavior Theory (DBT), a type of therapy that can effectively treat depression. Enhancing these skills can improve your loved one’s relationships by

  • helping them get clear on their wants and needs for healthy relationships
  • improving communication skills to solve conflicts
  • cutting ties with unhealthy or toxic people.

Although you can look up strategies online, we recommend working with a therapist who specializes in DBT.

Nurture quality relationships with family

Two women smiling outside gardeningSpend time together doing shared activities that you all enjoy. When someone in the family is struggling, it can be easy to focus all of our attention on what’s wrong. Make room for unwinding and relaxing activities, maybe try for a bit of fun! Crafting, playing a video or board game, going for a walk, tossing a ball or frisbee, dancing around or singing together, or gardening can be great ways to have quality time.

Make the family unit a safe and supportive environment. It doesn’t matter if your loved one was born into the family or chose you as their family. Communicate openly and honestly together about mental health. Listen. Be sympathetic and non-judgmental if your loved one confides in you (watch our webinar for tips on communicating effectively). If the person is struggling, do not be afraid to ask them directly if they are considering suicide.

By reminding our loved ones that the world needs them, we can help to prevent suicides.

Additional Resources