Understanding and Helping the Suicidal Person
Learn the warning signs of suicide, how to help the suicidal person ( specific ways to be helpful to someone who is threatening suicide).
There is no typical suicide victim. It happens to young and old, rich and poor. Fortunately there are some common warning signs of suicide which, when acted upon, can save lives. Here are some signs to look for:
A suicidal person might be suicidal if he or she:
- Talks about suicide and wanting to act on suicidal thoughts
- Has trouble eating or sleeping
- Experiences drastic changes in behavior
- Withdraws from friends and/or social activities
- Loses interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
- Prepares for death by making out a will and final arrangements
- Gives away prized possessions
- Has attempted suicide before
- Takes unnecessary risks
- Has had recent severe losses
- Is preoccupied with death and dying
- Loses interest in their personal appearance
- Increases their use of alcohol or drugs
Here are some ways to be helpful to someone who is threatening suicide:
- Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
- Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
- Be non-judgmental. Don't debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or feelings are good or bad. Don't lecture on the value of life.
- Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
- Don't dare him or her to do it.
- Don't act shocked. This will put distance between you.
- Don't be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
- Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
- Take action. Remove means, such as guns or stockpiled pills.
- Get help from persons or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
Many people at some time in their lives think about following through on suicide. Most decide to live, because they eventually come to realize that the crisis is temporary and death is permanent. On other hand, people having a crisis sometimes perceive their dilemma as inescapable and feel an utter loss of control. These are some of the feelings and things they experience:
- Can't stop the pain
- Can't think clearly
- Can't make decisions
- Can't see any way out
- Can't sleep, eat or work
- Can't get out of depression
- Can't make the sadness go away
- Can't see a future without pain
- Can't see themselves as worthwhile
- Can't get someone's attention
- Can't seem to get control
- A community mental health agency
- A private therapist or counselor
- A school counselor or psychologist
- A family physician
- A suicide prevention or crisis center
The National Hopeline Network 1-800-SUICIDE provides access to trained telephone counselors, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Or for a crisis center in your area, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Source: American Association of Suicidology (AAS). The purpose of AAS is to understand and prevent suicide. AAS promotes research, public awareness programs, and education and training for professionals, survivors, and interested lay persons. (202) 237-2280
Last Updated: 14 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD