The next two sections will explore talking points that can help bring a suicidal person back from the edge. But in order to get to that stage, it’s important you know what to say and what not to say. A well-intentioned but callous statement can close down dialogue completely, and many of the typical gut reactions people display can make things worse rather than better.
Suicide myth: You should never use the word suicide in talking with someone who is on the edge.
Fact: Using the word “suicide” won’t make things worse. In fact, talking very matter-of-factly about the subject can often decrease the likelihood that someone will kill themselves.
Don’t act shocked or react in an emotional way
Any type of emotional or distressed reaction will put distance between you and them. So hard as it may be, you need to try and keep your cool, responding in a calm, rational manner.
Avoid debates with teens
Suicides aren’t entirely rational decisions, so avoid getting into a debate about this person’s problems and the conclusion they formed that death is the best way to deal with it. Whether you believe these problems are serious or not is besides the point. They’re intolerable to the person considering suicide, and that’s all that matters. Trying to debate the logic of it all is a losing battle, and one that will leave you coming off as insensitive. So …
- Don’t argue about the morality of suicide and whether such an action is right or wrong.
- Don’t try to lecture about the value and sanctity of life.
- DO recognize that suicide is an option at their disposal, whether you consider it a viable solution or not.
Do not say: “What a stupid thing to talk about” or “that’s a really dumb idea”
These types of statements trivialize the person’s pain and insult them at the same time. To the person considering suicide, it isn’t a dumb or trivial decision at all. It’s a very legitimate option when others seem to have failed. Saying that considering suicide is a “stupid thing to do” will instantly close down communication, because it sends the message that you couldn’t possibly understand how it feels to be in their shoes. It may also have the unintended effect of egging a person on.
Do not say: “Well go ahead and do it then”
This statement is typically uttered by a frustrated parent or loved one who doesn’t think the suicidal person is serious. For many thousands of people, these were the last words ever spoken to that person. You should never encourage a distraught person to commit suicide, not even in a joking way. There’s a chance they may be bluffing, (or more accurately, crying out for help), but there’s also a chance that your antagonism may be the final tipping point that drives them to show you just how serious they are.
Regardless of how serious they are, such a statement tells them in no uncertain terms that you don’t care, that their life means nothing to you. They’ll fail to see the reverse psychology in such a statement. Being told by someone close to you to go ahead and just kill yourself often severs that last little thread they were holding on by. All suicidal ideations are cries for help, and should never be responded to so insensitively.
Do not say: “How could you do that to your family?” or “Don’t you understand what that would do to your parents?” or “Try to think about other people besides yourself.”
These types of statements reveal that you don’t understand the desperation they feel, and will only add to a person’s torment. You’ve essentially just accused them of being shallow (assuming they’ve never given a thought to the aftermath of this decision) and selfish or uncaring (there you go again, only thinking about yourself). Since many suicides are driven by a sense that nobody understands their situation, it’s just one more insult on top of countless injuries. This won’t make them suddenly see the light; it will only worsen their situation. Here’s a news flash: someone in this state of mind has thought about the consequences, they have felt guilty about how it might affect loved ones, and yet the despair continues to outweigh it all. It’s not that they’re thrilled with this option and enjoy imagining their life ending on this note; they merely don’t see any other way to end the pain.
Don’t allow yourself to be sworn to secrecy
Promise the person that your lips are sealed and that you won’t spill your guts or speak a word about this to anyone else unless it is absolutely necessary, and that the content of your conversations is confidential. But tell them you can’t swear to total secrecy if you feel that they are in imminent danger.