It’s 3:00 in the morning and you have just fallen asleep after studying for your exam. The telephone rings and your best friend is on the other end. Words that you never thought you’d hear come piercing across the line…”I just can’t do it anymore! The pain is too much to continue living…I know that I have got to end it – I must kill myself!” You instantly feel the adrenaline surge through your body. With trembling hands and sharpened senses, the question looms through your mind: “What do I say…what should I do!”
A suicidal crisis is very difficult to deal with. It is usually unanticipated and requires the helper to mobilize a variety of skills and resources. Following is a list of suggestions should you face the challenge of preventing a suicide attempt.
1. Encourage the person to discuss what prompted “death” thoughts. The more the person is able to talk about the specific details of the experience, the better he or she is able to understand the source of the crisis. Once a source is delineated, a course of action and intervention can be developed.
2. Elicit the person’s feelings. Expressing emotions is a way for the person to vent frustrations while securing validation and support. Common probes and statements include; “how did you feel when that happened” or “I would have felt hurt if that happened to me”.
3. Use the term “suicide”, “kill yourself”, and “suicidal plan” when talking about the threat. Oftentimes, people contemplating suicide envision the process from a distorted perspective. It may be even seen as a ‘romanticized’ escape….a solution without notable consequences. Using these terms can bring the person into a sharper reality focus while enabling the helper to determine if a plan is in place. If the person has a reasonable plan to carry out the threat to end his or her life, the cry for help is more serious and warrants careful attention.
4. Assist the person in defining alternatives and options. Those who are contemplating death do not see life as having positive alternative solutions. Highlighting the fact that death is a permanent solution to a temporary problem can impart hope. Alternative solutions are available. With assistance, the person in crisis can have the option to select the best solution for the situation.
5. Involve professional resources as needed. Trained professionals can assist the person in crisis to deal more effectively with the problem and work to instill hope again. The challenge may be cultivating a sense of trust to include an outside person. In many cases, the suicidal person wants the helper to maintain confidentiality. It is important to emphasize that he or she came to you because of trust and confidence that you care to do the right thing. Encourage the person in crisis to value your decision to involve a professional counselor if needed.
6. Talk with someone after the crisis is over. Taking the time to share what it was like to be in the stressful situation is important. Venting your feelings and decision processes is crucial to re-stabilizing after your adrenaline surge. In addition, you may find yourself feeling ‘guilty’ or ‘inadequate’ for securing outside help. Remember that by bringing other helpers into the situation your intention was not to betray a confidence, but to save a life.
7. Realize the limitations of your responsibility. There are a number of ways to offer assistance in a crisis. Some include connecting the suicidal person with a crisis line counselor, accompanying the person to a counseling center, making an appointment with a psychologist, notifying his or her parents, or calling the police. If you have taken substantial measures to prevent someone from committing suicide and the suicidal person refuses help options, there may be nothing more that can be done. Anyone who is determined to end his or her life will find a way. Your responsibility as a friend or associate is to assist, support, and possibly refer. Once you have care enough to incorporate all resources humanly possible, your responsibility as a fellow human being ends.
This post is based on the article “Helping Someone in a Suicidal Crisis”