Myth: There is really nothing you can do to help someone who’s truly suicidal
Fact: The understanding, support, and hope that you offer can be a suicidal person’s most important lifeline
I was at a big event and a famous mental health advocate said, “There is really nothing you can do to help someone who’s determined to kill themselves.” I was shocked. While it’s true you don’t have control over what another human being does, it’s rarely true that someone is so “determined” to kill themselves that your intervention has no chance of preventing it.
There are people that plan their death in advance because the planning brings some measure of peace from the unrelenting emotional pain. But your support matters and can save a life.
Many who have made a plan to die have been saved and are grateful they are alive. The flip side of that is that there are limitations regarding what you can do as a human because you cannot control someone else.
So let’s talk about what you can do.
- You can ask directly about suicidal thoughts. “Are you thinking of suicide?”
- You can fully listen to the person, providing nonjudgmental emotional support.
- You can remove firearms and other lethal means from the home.
- You can offer a list of resources for help and support.
- You can help a suicidal person get professional help.
No matter how desperately you try, there is only so much you can do to stop another person from dying by suicide. You cannot monitor a someone 24/7. You cannot remove all means for suicide. And while you can talk with someone about their suicidal thoughts, you cannot read another person’s mind if they choose not to share them.
The steps above do work. They don’t always work since a suicidal person is temporarily in an irrational state of mind. But your goal is to try to keep someone safe for now to the best of your ability. And know that many have tried and succeeded to save a life. You all have saved a life with your stories and comments as have I. So let’s put this myth to rest.