How to Help Someone who is Suicidal and maybe Save a Life
Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. Blinded by feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness, and isolation, a suicidal person can’t see any way of finding relief except through death.A suicidal person may not ask for help, but that doesn’t mean that help isn’t wanted. People who take their lives don’t want to die—they just want to stop hurting. But despite their desire for the pain to stop, most suicidal people are deeply conflicted about ending their own lives.
They wish there was an alternative to suicide, but they just can’t see one.
Assessing The Danger
The following questions can help you assess the immediate risk for suicide:
- Is the person talking about suicide, or saying (someone, the world…) would be better if they were dead? (IDEATION)
- If they do then Ask
- Do you have a suicide plan? (PLAN)
- Do you have what you need to carry out your plan (pills, gun, etc.)? (MEANS)
- Do you know when/where you would do it? (TIME/PLACE SET)
- Do you intend to take your own life? (INTENTION)
- If they do then Ask
- If a suicide attempt seems imminent, call a local crisis center, or take the person to an emergency room.
- If the person you are concerned about is in immediate danger of killing them-self and refuses to stay safe with you, call or text 911.
- Remove guns, drugs, knives, and other potentially lethal objects from the vicinity but do not, under any circumstances, leave a suicidal person alone.
- If you are talking to the person in an on-line medium and you know them… Activate a Network:
- Get Friends and Family Involved (Try and make sure they are not the people creating the pain the person feels)
- Try and find out where they are, and if they are alone… Contact their local crisis center on the phone while you talk to them… the crisis center can coach you while they arrange for help.
When talking to a suicidal person
Be yourself. Let the person know you care, that he/she is not alone. The right words are often unimportant. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it.
Listen. Let the suicidal person unload despair, ventilate anger. No matter how negative the conversation seems, the fact that it exists is a positive sign.
Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm, accepting. Your friend or family member is doing the right thing by talking about his/her feelings.
Offer hope. Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that his or her life is important to you.
Take the person seriously. If the person says things like, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask the question: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You are not putting ideas in their head, you are showing that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, and that it’s OK for them to share their pain with you.
Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like:
- “You have so much to live for”
- “Your suicide will hurt your family/children/me”
- “Look on the bright side”
- “Things could be worse”
- “How could you think of suicide? Your life is not that bad”
- “I don’t know why you would feel this way” or
- “It’ll get better soon.”
Act shocked, lecture on the value of life, or say that suicide is wrong.
Promise confidentiality. Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.
Offer ways to fix their problems, or give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting your friend or loved one.
Blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness, or lack thereof, is not your responsibility.
Talking to a person about Suicide:
Questions you can ask:
“When did you begin feeling like this?”
“Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?”
“How can I best support you right now?”
“Have you thought about getting help?”
What you can say that helps:
“You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.”
“You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.”
“I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.”
“When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage.”