How To Help Those Who May Contemplate Suicide

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Sally Armstrong

If someone confides in you that he or she is thinking of committing suicide or shows other signs of being suicidal, talk about it. Your interest may give your friend hope at a time when that is exactly what he or she needs. Here’s what to say, what NOT to say and where to get help.

If someone is giving you clues – “The world would be better off without me I can’t stand this any longer” but can’t say the words directly, you need to speak them for them.

  • Say, “Are you thinking of harming yourself?”
  • Say, “You aren’t alone. You aren’t crazy. There is help available.”
  • Ask, “How long have you been feeling this way?”
  • Ask how the person intends to end his or her life: “Do you have a plan? How would you do it?”
  • Don’t use platitudes such as, “Think how much better off you are than most people,” or “You should appreciate how lucky you are.” That will end the conversation and make the person who already is feeling guilty about having suicidal thoughts feel even more guilty. It’s not helpful and may be harmful. Don’t do it.
  • The answers to your questions will give you an indication of how serious the risk is. For instance, if someone says, “I intend to shoot myself and I have a gun hidden in the garage,” you know that he or she is in imminent danger and should not be left alone. On the other hand, if the person does not have a concrete plan, the risk is probably not as great. However, the evaluation of the risk should be made by a professional, not by you.
  • No matter what else you do, make sure he or she gets help. The most obvious source is the family physician or clergy person. If that isn’t suitable, call the emergency department of the local hospital and ask for the number of the distress center, crisis center or suicide prevention center in your area. If there is none, call the public health department or a mental health association in your city or town. If your friend refuses help, explain the situation to a reliable member of the family or make the call to a crisis center yourself.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Talk calmly and don’t be judgmental.

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