Averting a Potential Suicide Copyright Andrea Reynolds
18 things you can do right now if you think someone you love may be suicidal

Andrea,
Can you tell me what to say to a young person who appears to be living on the edge and tells me they are thinking about suicide? I replied to his email and encouraged him to phone me. This person helped me when I was very ill last year, and now I am wondering if there is something more I can say to him to help him, but which will not alarm him.
Isobel

  Isobel,
You're the kind of friend everyone should have. It could make a huge difference in his thinking just to hear that someone (you) really cares if he lives or dies. More than words to say, I can suggest specific steps you can take. Here's what has worked for me when I've handled such calls. Choose as many as you think you can do. Even one thing can prevent the loss of a human life.

1. Ring him instead. Don't wait for him to contact you. Making a phone call may be too much of an effort for him.

2. Tell him how concerned you are about him and how important he is to you and to many others. He likely doesn't feel this.

3. Don't keep talking: ask questions and listen. Listen. Listen. Let him hang up first, not you. He needs to know nothing else is as important as what he has to say. Listen.

4. Don't worry about alarming him. You won't trigger any thoughts he hasn't already considered. And you won't push him over the edge.

5. Ask what action he may have already taken: bought pills, a gun, a knife, a rope, etc.

6. Ask him to get rid of any method of hurting himself. Stay on the phone as he does it. Insist on this.

7. Tell him to call you night or day whenever he feels overwhelmed and needs to talk. Be there, even if it's 2 AM! Be sure you answer, not your answering machine.

8. Ask if he has told anyone else he trusts. Acknowledge that you are grateful he trusts you. Ask if he has the number of a 24 hour crisis center. Have it on hand and give it to him.

9. Ask if he has thought about who would find him if he died. Who does he expect will make the discovery? Ask which of his friends he expects will have the gruesome task of cleaning up the mess. He needs to understand the impact of his actions on innocent others.

10. Ask if he knows anyone who has committed suicide and how he felt when he learned about it. Ask if he can understand the grief others will feel if they learn he has died. Does he want his loved ones to experience such anguish?

11. Ask what he wants to escape from. Focus on resolving the problem. Suicide is never a solution: it simply causes emotional pain for others.

12. Brainstorm ways to eliminate what is causing him emotional pain. A solution for loneliness may be moving, having or changing a room-mate, getting a puppy, changing jobs, transferring schools, taking a vacation, getting counseling for a broken heart or bereavement. (Or have him write to me - this is what my column is for: crisiswriter@gmail.com)

13. If he says he is "so tired of ...." ask if he will do you a favor: to get some sleep first and see if that helps a little. He could be sleep-deprived. Be sure he takes no alcohol or sleeping pills.

14. Ask if he needs someone to stay with him. If he's feeling overwhelmingly lonely spend a few days with him. It's a good way to observe his actions and behaviors.

15. Find out where (exact address) he is calling you from. If he seems groggy or drugged keep him on the line and call emergency/police from another phone.

16. Be alert to an uncharacteristically cheerful behavior which quickly follows great sadness. Or if he starts giving away things that normally are important to him. That "peacefulness" or generosity can indicate a decision to do the deed soon.

17. You can't be expected to do this alone. Know who you can call to enlist their support: crisis center, physician (but not one who will just prescribe drugs!), his trusted family members, or close friends, but especially trained professionals.

18. Make a few copies of this column for your own use and keep one by each phone in your home.

Andrea Reynolds


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