That’s our greatest fear right? That we will say the wrong thing. We always fear the unknown.
Just listening and keeping someone safe and supported is one way to keep someone safe for now. And that’s your job. Safe for now. But here are some phrases that don’t really “cause” someone to suicide but they are not the ideal thing to say to someone in suicidal crisis.
First, I want you to remember that suicide is a brain attack–a temporary and irrational state of mind where someone is suffering emotional pain so devastating, their brain tells them the only solution is to kill themselves. It’s intense and relentless and people feel they are a burden and the world would be better off without them. Sometimes people don’t even realize they are thinking it.
When someone tells you how much they hurt, usually we want to make them feel better so we say things like:
- “You have so much to live for”
- “You have your whole life ahead of you”
- “What about your family?”
- “You’re just trying to get attention”
- “Suicide is so selfish“
These are messages that invalidate the person’s feelings. And what’s more, some of them just are not true.
If you say those phrases, it seems to the person in that irrational state of mind, that you don’t understand and they may not continue to talk to you. And you want to keep them engaged. You want them to talk.
Time is your ally.
Think about if you are going through a divorce and someone says, “You’ll find someone else,” right when you are first experiencing it.
Or if you’ve lost an infant and someone says, “You can always have another child,” as if one child can replace another.
If you happen to say any of the phrases above, it doesn’t mean they will follow through with their plan because you didn’t say the right thing.
There are just better things to say to let them know you empathize with their pain and their hurt even if you don’t fully understand it.
Instead, say something like,
- “I’m so sorry you feel that way. Tell me more about it.”
- “It sounds like you are really suffering. I want to know more so help me understand.”
- “I had no idea you were hurting so much. I am so sorry. Telling me takes a lot of courage. Thank you for your trust in me and keep talking.”
At any rate, you have to connect with how they are feeling first which is the hurt. Engage with the dark side and allow them to talk. To vent. They can’t understand logic or reasoning. All they know at that moment is the crushing pain they feel and how much they want to get away from it.
Listening with empathy and patience comes first.
Want to know more about what you can do to prevent suicide? Look for Talk Saves Lives –AFSP (One hour), ASIST training (2 days), SafeTalk (3 hours) training or Mental Health First Aid (one day) in your area. Google your city, state and the name of the course you want to learn more about.