Helping Someone in a Suicidal Crisis
What to Do
Do Not Be Afraid To Ask: “Do you sometimes feel so bad you think of suicide?”
Just about everyone has considered suicide, however fleetingly, at one time or another. There is no danger of “giving someone the idea.” In fact, it can be a great relief if you bring the questions of suicide into the open, and discuss it freely without showing shock or disapproval. Raising the question of suicide shows that you are taking the person seriously and responding to the potential of her or his distress.
If The Answer Is: “Yes. I do think of suicide.” Take It Seriously and Follow It Through.
“Have you thought how you’d do it?” Do you have the means?" “Have you decided when you would do it?” “Have you ever tried suicide before?” “What happened then?” If the person has a definite plan, if the means are easily available, if the method is a lethal one and the time is set, the risk of suicide is very high. Your responses will be geared to the urgency of the situation as you see it. Therefore, it is vital not to underestimate the danger by not asking for the details.
The degree of suicide risk can be determined by applying criteria outlined in: Assessing the Risk of Suicide
Making A Contract
If you ascertain that the risk of suicide is high (i.e., a strong possibility exists that the person will commit suicide in the near future), try to make a verbal agreement with the person to contact you before he or she follows through with suicidal intentions.
Get Some Help for Yourself and Your Friend
If your friend is imminently suicidal, then the crisis is serious and represents an immediate emergency. Please do not feel that you alone should be the one to help your friend. Even if your friend tries to pressure you to promise not to tell anyone, your friend needs professional help. And YES, it is ok for you to tell someone so that your friend can get help. Tell your friend that you cannot keep your friend’s crisis to yourself.
If your friend has attempted suicide and needs medical attention or a suicide attempt is imminent, then call 911. If you are concerned that your friend is going to attempt suicide, but the situation is not imminent, you can either contact your friend’s Resident Adviser or Rector (if your friend lives on campus) or you can call the University Counseling Center. You can call any time during the day (9:00 – 5:00 Monday through Friday) or after hours (after 5:00 during the week or on a weekend. Just call the UCC’s 24-hour Urgent Crisis number for help. That phone number is 631-7336. Leaving a message on the voice mail in the evenings or on weekends will activate the counselor’s pager, and within 30 minutes an on-call professional counselor will contact you to help.
Pitfalls: What to Avoid
Don’t shy away from the topic of suicide. Suicide is ugly. It reminds us of a whole world of things that we do not wish to think about. Because suicide arouses great fear and anxiety, we actively avoid the topic. Feelings of guilt and responsibility haunt us. Our emotions are intense and so we deny the reality of the suicidal person’s concerns.
The person in crisis is troubled and has problems that need to be discussed openly. If not taken seriously the suicidal crisis could worsen. By not asking obvious questions or avoiding the topic, it may seem as if you are not interested. He or she could feel rejected, guilt ridden, and more deeply disturbed.
Avoid moralizing. It is ineffective to tell the person that it is wrong and against God’s will to commit suicide, or to remind him of obligations to family and society. The suicidal person carries a heavy load of guilt and moral arguments only add to this burden.
Don’t be aggressive. Suicidal people sometimes make us feel hopeless and impotent, to which we often respond by becoming belligerently helpful. We urge the potential suicide to live in order to justify ourselves. Emotional exhortations based upon our own needs are futile.
Don’t try too hard to reassure the person. You may be tempted to try to rescue your friend by telling her, for example, that she is a good person and that life is worthwhile. Because she is feeling so hopeless, your efforts are likely to be dismissed. A more effective way to speak to someone who is suicidal is to first fully acknowledge the depth of his/her pain. Again, don’t be afraid to talk about his/her suicidal feelings. This helps him/her to feel understood and gives him/her permission to talk about the unthinkable – suicide. Ask the person – “Given that you haven’t attempted suicide yet, you must feel ambivalent about it. What are your reasons for living?” Then — sprinkle her/his own reasons for living in your conversation as you are helping him/her. Or, refer your friend for counseling. If your friend is a student walk him/her to UCC or call the on-call Urgent Crisis number (nights and weekends, same number as the day phone, 631-7336). If the person is not a student but lives in the Michiana area contact the Madison Center at 234-0061.
For additional information: see the Virtual Pamphlets Collection on Depression.