When Someone is Suicidal

DISCLAIMER: The information on this site is intended to help users learn about suicide and suicide prevention. It is provided for informational and referral purposes only. The web site should NOT be used as a substitute for medical advice, counseling, or other health-related services or as a replacement for the services of a trained medical or mental health professional. For medical or mental health advice, services, and treatment, consult your primary care physician, campus counseling center or other qualified mental health care professional.

What To Do

  1. Stay with the person and ask about suicide directly:
    • Ask: “Sometimes when people feel sad, they have thoughts of harming or killing themselves. Have you had such thoughts?”
    • “Are you thinking of about killing yourself?”
    • “Are you considering suicide?”
    • Contrary to popular belief, asking about suicide doesn’t put ideas into people’s head.
    • Ask about the person’s thoughts. Ask about the plan, method and means – are they lethal? Available?
  2. Listen
    • Try to remain calm. In most instances there is no rush. Focus on listening and understanding.
    • Reflect back feelings and paraphrase: “What I hear you say is that you are in a great deal of pain and feel hopeless.”
    • “Let me see if I am understanding this correctly…”
    • Encourage problem solving and positive actions, but don’t try to take away or minimize their pain. Encourage them to refrain from making any serious, irreversible decisions while in a crisis.
    • Listen with respect. Suicidal people very often need understanding and care.
    • Tell them: “I don’t want you to die.”
    • Tell them: “I will hold onto the hope for you until you can feel it too.”
    • Take all suicide threats seriously. Listen and express concern in a nonjudgmental way.
    • Show that you care.
  3. Get or call help immediately
    • Take charge and take action. Don’t worry about invading their privacy – suicide prevention is your business and often suicidal people have such tunnel vision they are unable to take action for themselves. Don’t leave it up to them to get help.
    • If the crisis is acute, treat it as an emergency and call:
      • the suicide prevention lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255),
      • the person’s counselor or general practitioner,
      • 911 or take the person to an emergency room.
    • You would intervene if someone were having a heart attack – a suicidal impulse can be just as deadly.
    • Get assistance. Avoid trying to be the sole lifeline for the person. Seek out resources even if it means breaking a confidence.

What Not To Do

  • Do not keep it a secret.
  • Do not sidestep the issue or treat it lightly.
  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Do not offer simple solutions.
  • Do not judge or tell the person they will go to Hell.
  • Do not offer or suggest drugs or alcohol.
  • Do not try to be a therapist. Get professional help.
  1. Suicide Prevention Resource Center

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