To those who think, ‘I’m not qualified to talk to someone who is suicidal’

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.

What do you say at first?

Here are some examples.

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. Next thing to say is, “Tell me more. Tell me why you are hurting.”

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?”

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:

  1. Ask the question
  2. Listen with empathy
  3. Remove means
  4. Connect them with services
  5. Follow up

Published by

Anne Moss Rogers

I am an emotionally naked TEDx speaker, and author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk. I raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost my younger son, Charles to substance use disorder and suicide on June 5, 2015. I help people foster a culture of connection to prevent suicide, reduce substance misuse and find life after loss. My motivational, training and workshop topics include suicide prevention, addiction, mental illness, coping strategies/resilience, and grief. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory. Professional Speaker Website. Trained in ASIST and trainer for the evidence-based 4-hour training for everyone called safeTALK.

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