What to Say to a Person Who is Suicidal

If you are reading this, there is a good chance you know someone who is suicidal. It’s important to understand how to talk to them and how to keep them safe. The most important thing to remember is to buy time until the person can get professional help. You should do whatever you can to help, but remember to stay in your lane. Don’t try to handle the situation alone if you aren’t a professional. Even if you promise the person you won’t tell anyone else they are suicidal, if you genuinely believe they are a threat to themselves or others, it is your responsibility to tell a professional or someone who can help intervene directly. This is one of the rare circumstances when a “white lie” is the right thing to do if it may save someone’s life.

What You Should Know if Someone is Talking About Suicide

Always take threats of suicide seriously. The consequences are too great if you discount it or think someone is joking when they aren’t. It isn’t always easy to know for sure how serious someone is. They may make casual or humorous comments when serious pain and real intent are behind them.

Imminent Threats of Suicidal Behavior 

If the situation is imminent, that means someone is talking about killing themselves right now or in the near future; then action must be taken. An example would be someone telling you a time and place they plan to kill themselves in the near future or expressing a detailed plan to you and a timeline. Of course, if someone is in a position to kill themselves at any moment, that qualifies as imminent, too, naturally. In that case, do whatever is necessary to stop them without risking your own life or safety. But your thoughts should always be on getting someone else involved to help as soon as possible. Preferably emergency services or law enforcement if not a mental health professional. These people in our society are best equipped and trained to handle this type of situation.

If Suicide Seems Like it May Be Imminent, remember:

To call 9-1-1 or Campus Police or the nearest emergency services in your area

Do NOT leave the person alone. Ensure they are escorted by you or someone you trust to get them safely to the nearest hospital or mental health crisis center.

Make sure anything they may use to harm themselves is no longer accessible. This might include guns, knives, medications, alcohol, and poisons. Again, be mindful of your safety as well.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – at 1-800-273-8255, but only after you have help on the way from emergency services, law enforcement, or other professionals. See if the person is willing to talk to them.

What Can You Do If Someone is Talking About Suicide 

First, remember that this acronym created by Work/Life Connections-EAP psychologist Chad Buck created is useful as a reminder of what is most important if you find yourself in this situation: BELIEVE.

Believe that suicidal comments or gestures are serious

Engage in conversation about thoughts and feelings

Listen without judgment or arguing

Investigate intent and access to lethal means

Express empathy for the person and situation

Validate how difficult and painful this is for them

Encourage them to seek support and escort the person to access help

Remembering this acronym and taking it to heart can help give you the right mindset to handle the situation carefully, calmly, and deliberately, which is the key here. Remember that you are not a professional, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help avert tragedy and at least keep the person safe until professional help arrives. You CAN do it.

Things to Say to Someone Who Has Suicidal Thoughts

When you talk to a suicidal person, try to focus on their feelings and validate them. Keeping them talking is almost always a good idea. Don’t try to lay the positivity on too thick, be honest with them, but keep it optimistic.

Here is a list of 7 things you can say: 

  1. “I’m here for you right now. Will you talk to me about what you’re feeling?”
  2. “You are not alone in this.”
  3. “I care about/love you. We are going to get through this together.”
  4. “I’m listening if you want to talk about it. I am not going to judge you.”
  5. “You are stronger than you think; you can overcome this, believe it or not.”
  6. “What is one small thing that could help you feel better right now?”
  7. “How can I best support you?”

If someone is suicidal, there are some critical steps to take. Here is a list of 4 things you should do: 

  1. Encourage them to seek professional help as soon as possible. Help them do that.
  2. Help them create a safety plan that outlines tangible steps to take if suicidal thoughts become overwhelming.
  3. Offer to accompany them to a mental health professional, support group, or other resource.
  4. If they are in imminent danger of harming themselves, NEVER hesitate to call 911 and stay with the person until help arrives.

Getting Help for Yourself or a Loved One

It can be challenging to talk to someone who is suicidal, but it is important to remember that your words may impact their life. Do whatever you can to help them and remind them they are loved, cared for, and deserve help.

Remember that the most important thing is to get professional help as soon as possible. Even if you are not a professional, you can make a difference that could save a person’s life. If you or someone else is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for free and confidential support. If you or someone you care about is struggling with mental illness or addiction, The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center wants to help. Please call our hotline at (877) 958-9212.

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