It scares you when someone tells you they are thinking of suicide. Or when you recognize the signs in social media. The fear sets in and you think you are not qualified. Because it freaks you out. It feels like a huge responsibility.
First, you are not supposed to fix this. For that, you are not qualified.
You are qualified to listen and talk, however.
They may say:
- I’m such a burden
- I can’t do this anymore
- I feel so worthless
- I feel so numb
- No one would miss me if I was gone
- I wish I were dead
- I just want to die
- I don’t want to live anymore
- Ghost you (isolate)
- Increase drinking and drugging or other harmful behavior
- Offer prized possessions because they won’t be “needing them anymore”
- Talk a lot about death
- Engage in risky behavior
- Call you and it sounds like goodbye
- They may post a message on social media that sounds like a goodbye message
Here are some examples of what you can say
You start by saying something like this. “I feel very concerned about you. Are you thinking of suicide?”
You have to be blunt and direct. If the answer is yes. The next thing to say is, “Tell me more. Tell me why you are hurting, I’m listening….“
Then just listen. Encourage the person to talk. Stay with the person. Reassure them you are honored they trusted you with this information and you will be there for them.
Ask open-ended questions. Be empathetic. Just know that the intensity of suicidal thoughts doesn’t last forever and it’s like the picture above. It peaks and then subsides and the intense part can’t last but so long. The person may say they are worthless, that the world would be better without them. They seem very convinced they can’t live with the emotional pain they are living with.
The response is, “I am so sorry you feel this way. That must be terrible.”
Resist saying things like, “You have so much to live for,” or “Why would you think that?” (This invalidates their feelings and makes them feel as if they have not been heard.)
You want to be there with your friend or have someone come in your place if you have to be somewhere else. It’s not necessary to stay forever but you want, to the best of your ability, not to leave the person alone if they are still in active suicidal mode. Your goal is “safe for now.” All you can do is the best you can do.
Many times it doesn’t come to this next step at all.
Your next goal is to remove means. If you can, ask if your friend has a plan. Just remove whatever it is that person planned to use to kill him or herself if their ideation is that advanced. People who are in the moment of feeling suicidal don’t usually think of an alternate plan. By removing means temporarily–pills, a firearm–you reduce chances they’ll use it when they are at risk.
You can always call the hotline with the friend if you want or you are confused about what to do. You might be nervous. That’s OK.
It’s the listening with empathy that is the most important step and the follow up the next day to ask how the person is. You know how to do that.
Of course, there are instances where you might need to call 911 or take someone to the hospital. But that’s not always the case. Just know you might be the only person who is there to intervene.
If you care about others. If you are able to listen with empathy, you are qualified enough until they can get to someone who is. And connecting them with services or asking them if they have connected with a therapist or hospital the next day is appropriate.
The basic beginner suicide intervention primer:
- Ask the question
- Listen with empathy
- Remove means
- Connect them with services
- Follow up
Other posts that might help:
- ‘My son has admitted he is suicidal. What do I do now?’
- What is the “wrong” thing to say to someone thinking of suicide?“
- Suicide Resources
- To those who think, ‘I’m not qualified to talk to someone who is suicidal’
- A friend posted a message online that sounds suicidal. What do you do or say?
- Should I tell someone my friend is thinking of suicide?
USA Suicide & Crisis Lifeline call 988
USA Crisis Text 741-741
Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for Veterans call 988, press 1
USA Crisis Line for LGBTQ Youth, call 1-866-488-7386
USA Crisis Text for LGBTQ Youth 678-678
USA TransLifeline call, 1-833-456-4566
USA Suicide Prevention Lifeline & Chat for the Deaf or Hearing impaired. Or dial 711 then 988
United Kingdom Samaritans 116 123
Australia Crisis Line 13 11 14
Canada Crisis Line 1-833-456-4566
Canada TransLifeline 877-330-6366
International suicide hotlines