One of the most frightening experiences a person can have is hearing a friend or loved one say they want to die. Even to hear a complete stranger say these words is hard. Each day in our chat room and forum, there are dozens of pleas for help. How can you cope and try to maintain your own sanity? And how can you sort out the facts from the myths about suicide? Here are some tips I have gathered from various sources and from personal experience.
1. There are no right or wrong things you can say if you are speaking out of love and concern. Just be yourself. Show that you care by talking to them, holding them while they cry, or whatever else is necessary.
2. A suicidal person usually is carrying around some burden that they feel they just can't handle anymore. Offer to listen as they vent their feelings of despair, anger and loneliness. Sometimes this is enough to lighten the load just enough for them to carry on.
3. Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm, accepting. The person will pick up on your attitude and begin to mirror this.
4. Don't be afraid to ask, "Are you having thoughts of suicide?" You are not putting ideas in their head. This will give you some valuable information about how to proceed in helping him.
5. If the answer is yes, ask these three questions:
- Have you thought about how you would do it?
- Do you have what you need to carry out your plan?
- Do you know when you will do it?
Fortunately the majority of people will either say that they have no definite plans or that they don't have the nerve to do it themselves. Although this is still a serious situation, you know that they are probably not in imminent danger of hurting themselves. Take their words as a plea for help and proceed with helping them to get the assistance that they need. Urge them to seek professional help as soon as possible.
If the answers they give you lead you to believe they are in immediate danger, do not hesitate to contact the authorities. They may tell you that you are betraying them or making them angry. You may feel like you will lose their friendship if you take action. Just remember that you may permanently lose their friendship if you don't. When they're well again, they will thank you.
6. Keep them talking. This will allow them to reduce the emotional burden they are carrying. and give them time to calm down. The longer you keep them talking, the more you can take the edge off their desperation. As their momentum winds down, it's harder for them to act on their feelings.
7. Avoid trying to offer quick solutions or belittling the persons feelings. How big he perceives the problem to be and how much he is hurting over it is what counts. Rational arguments do little good to persuade a person when they are in this state of mind. Instead offer your empathy and compassion for what he is feeling without making any judgments about whether he should feel that way.
8. If the person has already started a suicide attempt, call for help immediately. If they are still conscious, get what information you can about what substances they have ingested, how long ago did they ingest them, how much did they take, are they also consuming alcohol, when did they last eat, what is the general state of their health. Call 911, Poison Control, or an appropriate emergency contact number in your area and explain the situation. Keep calm and follow any steps they may give you to assist your friend.
9. If you are in a situation--such as an online friendship--where you know very little about the person, encourage them to call 911 on their own or to call a suicide hotline in their area.. This is your best option, because a local agency such as 911 or a hotline may be able to trace the call and get assistance to them. If they refuse to call, do your best to learn whatever personal information you can about the person. Don't hesitate to ask them for their address, phone number, and other information to help dispatch an emergency crew to their home. Ask for the same information in item #9 as well.
10. Dealing with a suicide threat is very stressful. Seek assistance to decompress afterwards. Talk to a trusted friend, your pastor, etc. about what you've been through and how you feel about it.
11. If all your attempts fail, don't blame yourself. You did all that you could. This person ultimately made their own choices, for good or bad. If you were very close to the person, it may be wise to seek out grief counseling and suicide survivor support groups.