10 Ways To Help Someone Considering Suicide

Suicide is one of the hardest things to deal with, not just for the person considering suicide, but for the people surrounding that individual. Often, these people who observe suicidal behavior from someone they love become very concerned and even disturbed at what they’re seeing. But it’s very important not to let you shock overwhelm you. Instead of focusing on the sadness of the situation, there are many things you can do to help these suicidal individuals. Here are some way you can help someone you know who might be considering suicide.

1. Don’t Ask Too Many Questions


One of most interesting studies that was done on suicide was published in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems in 2011. They studied the rising rates of suicide in Japan, an area which has a massive problem with people taking their own lives. Lessons learned from this country can serve as an example to the rest of the world. The study found something interesting – that asking too many questions can sometimes cause a negative reaction in suicidal people.

Could this just be due to Japanese culture? Or is this indicative of a more widespread trait when it comes to suicidal people all over the world? It would make sense to me that this applies to all people, because the feeling of being interrogated with many questions is never fun. Because of the shock of finding out someone is suicidal, sometimes it’s tempting to bombard them with constant questions. But a more effective technique might be to start slow, and just letting the person know you’re there to help, at least to begin with.

2. Don’t Give Them False Hope 


Another very interesting study was done on India, another country that is suffering from increasing suicide rates. What they learned was a lesson that can help all of us who are trying to provide aid a suicidal person. They found that giving the person false hope can be a disastrous decision. Although you might feel that making unreasonable promises to the person might convince them not to commit suicide, it actually causes the opposite effect. They immediately see through this fake promise, and makes them even more disillusioned with the world they live in. Although it might be tempting to say things like, “Everything is going to be okay,” take a second to think about what you’re saying. Is everything really going to be okay? As this study suggests, a better option might be to employ a more realistic approach.

3. Don’t Try To Relate


The same study as mentioned above found many more tactics to deal with suicidal people. They also found that trying to relate to the suicidal person can also be a bad decision. You have to understand that in the minds of suicidal people, no one understands what they’re going through. Even if you have contemplated suicide in the past, and you feel like you’ve gone through the exact same thing, don’t try to relate your own experiences to what they’re going through. The suicidal person will most likely reject this advice because they believe it does not apply to them. Instead, focus on listening to them and trying to understand their own unique circumstances as best you can.

4. Use Their Own Belief System To Convince Them


Finally, the same study as previously mentioned provides on more great piece of advice. This time, instead of telling us what not to do, the researchers reveal something that can help suicidal people choose life. Learn about their personal beliefs, and use those beliefs to convince the person not to commit suicide. The study found that this was an extremely effective method in helping suicidal people. If they believe in a specific religion, use teachings from that religion to convince them about the value of life. If they believe in nothing at all, you can use that to convince them as well, by saying things like, “You only live once. Why not make the most out of it?”

5. Encourage Them To See A Professional


One of the best things to do, if not the best thing to do to help suicidal people is to encourage them to see a mental health professional. That’s not to say you should refuse to help them, and just tell them to “get help” and then walk away. That would not go down well! What you can do is let them know you’re there for them, listen carefully, and then encourage them to get help. You have to remember that you’re not a professional, you’re not trained in this, and you don’t have the resources to help (unless of course you are a trained mental health professional).

6. Take Them Seriously


There has been a huge tendency to dismiss the validity of suicidal tendencies throughout the years. People often say things like “They’re just doing it for attention,” or “They’ll never actually go through with it.” This is perhaps the worst outlook you can take when it comes to suicidal people. You have to take them seriously. If no one pays attention to them or displays any concern, this might actually push them further towards suicide. It makes them feel alone. This notion is backed up by studies, as it was found that the vast majority of people who have committed suicide displayed warning signs before taking their own lives. In addition, a study in Finland found that ten percent of people who committed suicide saw a health professional with 24 hours of taking their own lives!

7. Try Not To Seem “Fake”


Something that really causes a negative effect when it comes to dealing with people contemplating suicide is when you appear too fake. As previously mentioned, it’s important you take these people seriously. But this doesn’t mean turning yourself into something you’re not. Be yourself! Don’t act like a different person all of a sudden just because you’ve found out that someone close to you is contemplating suicide. They will see right through your fake demeanor. This might cause a negative effect, creating a sense of increased disillusion in their view of the world around them. An example of this would be adopting a babying, almost patronizing approach to these people, speaking softly to them as if they were a small child. But there are many other ways you can appear fake when it comes to interacting with suicidal individuals.

8. Encourage Participation In Culture


Recently, Canada, Finland and other countries situated around the Arctic belt embarked on an ongoing to study to tackle the growing problem with suicide among the people living in the far north. The vast majority of these people are part of aboriginal groups such as the Inuit in Canada, and the Saami in Finland. There is a growing suicide epidemic in these societies. This prompted the release of the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Society. Although this strategy was specifically tailored towards Inuit people, there are a lot of lessons that were outlined in this strategy that can be applied to people all over the world.

One of the most interesting things they discovered was that when they encouraged these people to participate in their own culture, it reduced the risk of suicide. Examples of this could be singing traditional songs, creating traditional arts and crafts, and generally doing things typical to their traditional culture. Perhaps this helps because the suicidal people feel like they belong to a larger collective, and this lessens their sense of loneliness. They suddenly feel like they belong, part of a community and a culture that has spanned multiple generations behind them.

This strategy could definitely be applied to people in general. Traditional culture is not something we experience on a day to day basis, especially if we live in a big city. Certain countries also seem devoid of culture these days – especially nations like America and Canada who are relatively young countries. They don’t have centuries of tradition like many nations in Europe. Would it help if we began to actively promote our ethnic cultures? The results in Inuit societies seem to suggest so.

9. Address Unresolved Grief


One of the biggest reasons people contemplate suicide is because of unresolved grief. Indeed, it’s one of the biggest warning signs of people who might commit suicide in the future. These people might say that they’re about to see dead loved ones again, or that they wish they could see dead family members again. This often stems from unresolved grief. When people can’t properly go through the grieving process, they turn to drastic measures, including suicide. They feel it’s the only way out, or the only way they’ll ever see that person again. If you think this might be the root cause of their suicidal thoughts, bring it up. If you encourage them to address it, they might be able to finally come to terms with it and move on.

10. Stop Them From Taking Certain Prescription Drugs


For those who don’t know, there is also a huge problem with suicides in the military, specifically the US army. The rates are so alarming that multiple studies have tried to look into this problem and figure out how to tackle it. One such study was published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2012. This study went into a lot of depth, studying various factors that might contribute to suicide in the military. One of these factors was a reliance on certain prescription drugs, specifically opioids.

You’ve seen it again and again – TV commercials that sell these drugs and slip in the disclaimer at the end which says, “This may result in suicidal thoughts.” While this study was done through the military, the lessons learned apply to all people. If you know someone who is suicidal and they take certain prescription drugs, most notably opioids, it might be a good idea to get them to stop, or at least bring up the fact that this might be the reason they’re suicidal.

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  1. Psych2Go-
    Great content! I think it should be more direct in prevention of suicide.
    How I learned it in mental health class is using ALGEE.
    Assess risk of suicide or harm
    – Ask them “are you going to kill yourself?”- It sounds weird, I know. You aren’t planting the idea into them. If they are planning to kill themself, they are already thinking about it. You could also say “are you planning to commit suicide?” but commit has some other connotations to it (i.e. committing murder).
    – If they say yes, you go the next question- “have you made a plan?”
    – if they say yes, you go to the next question “Have you made the necessary preparations?”
    – the more detail they give you, the more likely they are going to kill themself.
    Listen nonjudgementally
    – like you said, don’t give them advice, don’t offer them simple solutions, and don’t judge them
    Give reassurance and information
    – don’t blame the person, have realistic expectations, but offer consistent emotional support and understanding
    – ties into next step
    Encourage appropriate professional help
    – I like to give them options- counseling center (at school), hospital, suicide crisis hotline, or police (if person said yes to all three)
    – if person said yes to all three in the A section, you must make them get to one these options
    Encourage self-help and other support strategies
    – try not to be the only person that they can rely on, they also need themselves and other friends/family/community to help
    – there is self-help books and computerized therapy (free of charge)