How to Help Someone Who Might Be Suicidal

Woman Looking out of a WindowEditor’s note: California-based clinical psychologist Andrew Mendonsa, PsyD, will present a 90-minute web conference about adult suicide risk assessment starting at 9 a.m. PDT on July 26, 2013. The presentation is available at no additional cost to GoodTherapy.org members, and is good for 1.5 continuing education credits. For details, or to register, please click here.

One stressful and anxiety-provoking situation reported by professionals and the general public is dealing with a client, friend, or family member who might be suicidal. This article is intended to provide a few resources and tips for handling such a situation. Please remember first and foremost that if someone’s life is in danger, dial 911 immediately.

Ask Questions

There is a misconception that asking a person about suicide might give him or her the idea to do so. Volumes of research and numerous studies have shown this to be untrue. Bringing the topic out into the open for discussion actually is quite helpful. When you ask, you get information, and with that you can take action.

There is a big difference between “If I didn’t wake up one day I would be happy” and “I wish I was dead, and given the next opportunity I plan to kill myself.” Without enough information, you might over- or under-respond.

Details Matter

After asking a loved one about his or her suicidal thoughts, how do you handle the information provided? This is where details are important. Does the person have a plan for how he or she wants to end life? Does he or she have the intent and desire to die? Does he or she have the means to carry out such a plan (firearms, pills, access to bridges or high places)? What is the likelihood the person will be rescued/found in time to save his or her life? Determining answers to these questions will help you decide the next steps. Is the person intoxicated or on drugs which might cloud his or her judgment? These details can also assist professionals who may render care.

Remember: If an individual has the intent, a plan, and the means to attempt suicide, call 911 or seek clinical intervention immediately to protect that person’s life.

Take Action

Depending on the information provided by the person, you have to decide how to respond. Working with the person instead of making decisions for the person is always preferable. If you are unsure how to proceed with, put the person in contact with a mental health professional or contact a suicide crisis line in your area or the national suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255).

Sometimes a person may not want help or refuse to participate, in which case you have to make the decision to call 911 or take action against the person’s wishes. Sometimes a person needs to see a therapist or health care professional for therapy and/or medication. Other times, supportive contact from friends or family might be the solution.

Whatever the situation, remind the person that you are there to support him or her and will remain a support source during and after the crisis. Remember to reinforce his or her reaching out for support. Suicide has been painted as a “don’t talk about it” concept in our society. Helping a person overcome that perception can help him or her feel better about reaching out in the future. If you feel you cannot handle a person in crisis, that’s OK! Help the person get connected with someone else and remain in an ancillary, supportive role. The last thing you want is two people in crisis.

Practice Self-Care

Dealing with a person who is contemplating suicide can be difficult and emotionally exhausting, especially over a period of time. Remember to care for yourself through and after the crisis. Talking to someone else and debriefing, examining reactions and emotions from the situation, exercising, and maintaining your normal routine can help prevent lasting harm to your well-being. We are not born or raised to handle situations such as suicide, so don’t hold yourself to that standard.

 

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrew Mendonsa, PsyD, therapist in Sacramento, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Maggie

    Maggie

    June 12th, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    I think that the most important thing that you can do is to take them seriously. If someone tells you that they are thinking about harming themselves then now is not the time to assume that they are telling a joke. Anyone who says something like this is obviously reaching out for help, and no matter how they might try to brush it off, it is better to be safe than sorry. Solicit help, don’t leave them alone, and don’t brush them off and think that they just need a little time alone to think it through. That’s the last thing that they need. Be a real friend and get them some help, because if you ignore it and then something terrible happens you will never be able to firgive yourself and you will have lost someone very important in your life.

  • Mae

    Mae

    June 13th, 2013 at 4:14 AM

    Personally I don’t think that this is the time for anyone to try to be the hero. You ask for help, plain and simple, because most of us are not equipped to handle something this serious alone.

  • Tattyana

    Tattyana

    August 14th, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    Take them serious.My daughter told me right before she left the house “im gonna kill myself” and I said just do it, thinking that she would never even try it, and she did. Is very important to always believe when someone talk about suicide.

  • Karen

    Karen

    November 21st, 2014 at 3:37 PM

    I have a 21 yr old son who I believe has been depressed. Today was the first time he told me he didn’t want to be here any more. He feels no ambition, no happy thoughts and feels like hes failed in everything. There is more to this but I need to know what to do. My son is a great person and I can’t see the same issues as the ones he feels. His words scared me today, please help me help my son.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    November 21st, 2014 at 4:02 PM

    Hi Karen, we wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at https://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    If you are looking for a therapist on GoodTherapy.org, the best way to do so is to perform an advanced search and use it to find exactly what you’re looking for. You may also call our toll-free Find-A-Therapist line at 888-563-2112 ext. 1. We hope that helps!

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

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