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How to respond to a suicidal person

Responding to a suicidal person
Responding to a suicidal person
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In 2011, the last year for finalized data, there were 39,518 successful suicides in the United States. In contrast, there was an estimated 987,950 attempts the same year according to the American Association of Suicidology. Women make more attempts but men are more successful. Firearms lead the way in means of committing suicide with suffocation/hanging second.

So what should you do if you are with someone who is suicidal? First and foremost take them seriously. Do not discount or minimize their feelings. Offer empathy and be sincere in your responses to someone expressing suicidal thoughts. Be direct. Talking about suicide will not push a person with thoughts of suicide over the edge and cause them to take their own life. Most individuals expressing thoughts of suicide are trying to stop the emotional pain, and possibly physical pain if chronically and clinically depressed, and want the pain to stop. Many times the individual has tried medications, psychotherapy, electro-convulsive-therapy (ECT) or a combination of these treatments without success. They simply are sick and tired of feeling the pain each and every day of their lives and become desperate for relief.

Keep the following guidelines in mind when talking with someone with thoughts of suicide: • Take the person serious • Actively listen • Do not minimize or discount their feelings • Be empathetic and offer sincere responses • Be direct but kind • Do not leave the person alone • Stay with the person expressing thoughts of suicide • If possible, eliminate access to a stated means of committing suicide (e.g., pills or firearms)

Talking with a suicidal person is paramount. Talking is a good thing. Making a genuine connection with them and conveying a message of love and support may prevent this wonderful child of God from taking his or her life. It is of the upmost importance that you stay with the person. If you feel you are overwhelmed or that it is needed to save a life call 911.

In the world of psychology, there is a mindset that goes something like this; suicidal thoughts, also called suicidal ideation, and having the means to follow through and commit suicide equals intention. Take the person in distress seriously. If you are talking with someone and need help from a professional call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Make the call together. The call is toll-free, non-threatening, available 24/7 and confidential.