Helping a Suicidal Person

What would you do or say if you were thrust into a situation of helping a suicidal person?

Amid the shock, disbelief or questions, the first thing to remember, is that your loved one has just handed you a gift. He or she is letting you in. By telling you how they feel at that moment, they are allowing you to help. Whatever you say to them from then on can either let them open the door even wider or shut the door permanently.

When helping a suicidal person, it’s important to note that there are many things you can say that may not be helpful. At. All.

Here are 5 of such statements to avoid:

1. “Suicide is selfish and Cowardly.”

Ah, the epic guilt-tripping quip. Consider however that many people who seriously consider suicide think their very existence is a burden to the people they love. At that point, all they are thinking of – albeit unclearly – is to remove themselves from the equation and solve everyone’s problem. Also, isn’t it a natural response to excruciating pain to think first of helping oneself escape suffering?

Also, how can you try to save someone by shaming them? It’s just wrong. As a rule, people would generally do everything humanly possible to avoid death till it’s inevitable. While we hesitate to call suicide brave, overcoming the fear of death does not exactly come across as a cowardly move.

2. “Do you want to go to hell?”

Do you honestly think your loved one hasn’t considered this? He or she might just not care simply because the thought of an eternal fire isn’t even close to their present pain. Also, consider that the person might not believe in hell. Maybe they believe that God will forgive their suicide. Regardless, their wish to die remains. If you are helping a suicidal person, telling them they will go to hell can exacerbate feelings of alienation and drive them away from you.

3. “Other people have worse problems and they haven’t killed themselves.”

Yes, but since the human experience seems universal, we internalise issues and deal with situations differently. People have stepped out of SUVs to jump off a bridge but on that same road, they would have passed many homeless people. It seemingly makes no sense, but the will to live is an internal thing and there’s also the possibility that your loved one may well have already considered this with shame. Comparing them to others who cope better may only worsen their self-condemnation.

4. “How could you even think of doing this to me?”

See, it’s not about you. The person already knows how devastated you will be and they feel terrible about it. The amount of guilt this seemingly simple statement adds to their portfolio of suffering won’t help at all.

5. “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

This is quite popular on social media but in context, while it can be a helpful statement it also communicates that the person’s problems are temporary, when they might be anything but. The person has two choices, to live on despite the problem, temporary or not, or to bypass the problem altogether. In addition, it also implies that suicide is a ‘solution’. It’s not.

We acknowledge that you want to help, so it’s important to understand that when someone discloses suicidal thoughts to you, your words and actions can help them feel less alone and, as a result, hopeful.

So before helping a suicidal person, ask yourself two simple questions:

  • How can what I want to say help this person?
  • How can it harm?

Your answer may mean the difference between the person feeling judged and even more alone – or accepted and understood.

Also read: Suicide Prevention: How to talk to someone at risk

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