7 ways to help someone stop thinking of suicide

When people talk about suicide, it stirs up something deep in us.

It is incongruent with our biological instinct for survival. We know that something is wrong.

If we love the person, or even care about him, we may start to panic.

What if I lose him?

We may not trust ourselves to help lift him out of the pain. And worried and helpless up against darkness that he is facing. We don’t know what to do or what to say.

But we know we have to do something.

Stop suicide help someone live

As a therapist, I have talked to thousands of people about suicide over the 20 plus years that I have been practicing. I haven’t lost anyone to suicide, but I stay vigilant and meet each new disclosure with my full attention. Each person is incredibly valuable and I don’t want to lose anyone.

I’ve seen people in the most intense pain that you can imagine and I see them afterwards, when they feel better. Seeing this process so many times, I have the retrospective view of the next person coming in. Things change. People get better.

I know you want to help your friend/child/lover/parent get to that “better” place. And there are things that you can do that will be invaluable to helping them and bring the two of you closer together. Thank goodness.


Click to tweet: How to stop suicide http://ctt.ec/a1YI9+ @JodiAman #suicideprevention #robinwilliams

Here are 7 ways to respond when someone tells you she is thinking about suicide.

1. Stay calm.

“Suicide” has a way of freaking people out. But when we freak out, it becomes about us and not the person who is suffering. They feel lost, invisible, and shamed when we freak out.

Unfortunately some professional questioning sounds more like concern for liability than compassion for the person. Most of my clients who have been suicidal, have had experiences with people freaking out. They are afraid they will be locked up and so stop talking about themselves.

I’d rather keep them talking.

Call 911 only when the person is in imminent danger. (i.e., bleeding severely, taken some pills, missing, on a ledge, or waving a weapon around.) Your friend texting that she “doesn’t want to live like this” does not need the police to barge past her parents, cuff her and take her alone in the back of a squad car to the hospital.

If you are a teenager and your friend tells you that she is suicidal or thinking about suicide, see number three on this list.

2. Understand.

Loads of people think about suicide. First and foremost it is an expression that you don’t want to feel this pain anymore. That is a normal response to pain. It would be weirder if someone wants to feel this bad.

When you were in pain, haven’t you ever thought about escaping somehow? Maybe you never said it out loud, but this person feels the same. Surely, you can understand?

People who think of suicide are usually scared by their thoughts, because they think it is “messed up.” This entices fear and shame on top of what they were already feeling, making them spiral further down and intensifies everything.

We want to ease this fear and shame immediately. Tell them there is nothing to be ashamed of. You understanding and staying calm will go very far in helping them begin to feel better, fast, so that you can get to the reason they were upset in the first place.

Assuming that they want attention misses the mark. I don’t think in these terms. This person probably feels invisible and isolated. Please give them attention, right now.

People don’t want to feel bad. I think about what is absent but implicit in people wanting to escape pain: They want to feel better. It’s very understandable.

Acknowledging and validating that they want relief will help them feel understood and this makes so much difference.

3. Tell someone.

This is too heavy to deal with alone. Never promise your friend that you will not tell anyone.

If they say, “I have something to tell you, but you can’t tell anyone.” Let them know you can’t agree to promise that until you know what it is. Say you can’t keep a secret if someone is in danger.

If you are young, tell a trusted adult. A teacher or counselor if you are at school, or your parents if you are at home. Your parents and you can decide to let your friend’s parents know. Your friend already might have a counselor and her parents can call that counselor, keep a watch on her, and get her some help.

Sad as it may be, some parents are abusive and so not trustworthy. I understand. There is usually someone in her life that can help and she will be able to tell you who. A grandmother, aunt, teacher…find someone to tell. But don’t do it alone, your parents and or someone at school can help you.

4. Touch them.

Sometimes a kind word and a hug can do wonders. Being close to another person can feel so good.

Many people who are overwhelmed by their emotions can use a good cry in caring arms. They desire this, but they might not ask.

Being overwhelmed by depression can make you feel so alone and disconnected. Touch grounds us and makes us feel connected. Don’t hesitate.

Click to tweet: Connection is the best #suicideprevention http://ctt.ec/3XHcB+ @JodiAman #somethingtolivefor

5. Stay with them.

Stay with your lovey or arrange for someone to be with him or her until they let you know their desire to die passes.

Listen to them. But also distract them. Try to get them to laugh. Among my clients, laughing with a friend is the most common way to pass out of thoughts of suicide. It may not make the problem go away, but it helps pass the time, until a mood can lift.

Let them know there is nothing more important than being with them in that moment.

Let them know you love them and what you love about them. Make a list. Watch this video.

6. Ask why they haven’t

Most people say, “I want to die, but I don’t want to die.” This makes so much sense to me. They just want to feel better.

When someone talks about suicide, before I ask about a plan, or whatever, I ask why he hasn’t.

This is really what we need to know. People who think about suicide don’t commit suicide for a reason. And you bet I want to know that reason! When I ask this question, I find out the most fascinating things that all touch my heart.

Their response says something about what is important to them. Important enough to live for. This is what I want to bring out in the open: his love and commitment to this priority. There’s a story about this important thing and I want to thicken it up and make it shine so he commits more fully to living.

Maybe it is not wanting to leave his family. This is beautiful and noble. This tells me so much. I don’t invalidate this gorgeous love by telling him that he needs to want to live for himself. Or that he has to find out why he wants to die. I know why he wants to die. He doesn’t feel good.

I want to know why he wants to live. To hear more about it and let his words and his care for that thing float around the room, come around him in a big hug and make him want to live even more! I’m in awe of why he wants to live, so that awe is reflected back and he is in awe too.

This will stop him faster than any safety contract that focused on disembodied, imposed skills.

Love people up to you instead of worrying down to them. Jodi Aman

7. Make a plan

Rather than a safety contract, I make a plan of what to do. This plan includes

1. Distraction- have something enjoyable to do to pass time.

2. Company- tell someone immediately and spend time together until it passes

3. Call me- I encourage people to call me when they feel like dying. Anytime of day or night.

My freshman year in high school, I lost a friend to suicide. I cared about Mike deeply and reeled with shock when he died. I didn’t even know he was struggling. If fact, the last time I spoke to him, I talked about myself.

Maybe if we had texting back then, or Facebook, we would have been closer, and he would have shared his depression with me. Maybe I could have helped.

Many more friends in high school disclosed their suicidal thoughts to me. Thank God, no one else died. Probably more felt this bad but didn’t tell me. You never know what someone is going through since people hide their pain so well. Whether they told me or not, I hope my kindness or smiles came to them when they needed it most.

A few years ago, I made peace with Mike. Instead of feeling shame that I was so selfish only 4 days before he died to dare speak about my own problems, I accepted his message from heaven that I helped him feel valuable and loved when he needed it most. I released his spirit that was held in my shame and re-committed to standing closer to people when they are in pain.

There are tons of resources online for suicide help and prevention.

Don’t let worry take you over, choose love instead. If you seek help and that person is responding out of fear, don’t give up, find someone else.

58 thoughts on “7 ways to help someone stop thinking of suicide”

      1. It is so easy for some people to say: I’d kill myself if…. That when they hear another saying they are suicidal, they don’t take it seriously. .. People whose role is to believe. It is one of the hardest things to admit to others. Admitting it causes so much shame and needs so much strength. I so often come to this post because you understand.

  1. Yes, your right. The average “healthy” person becomes immediately uncomfortable discussing suicide because it is so opposite our natural instincts to survive. After reading about Robin Williams today I took a walk outside and then went to the breakroom for a cup of tea. While in the breakroom someone brought the Robin Williams topic up and I made a serious off-the-cuff remark that I knew exactly why he did it, which I do. It quickly cleared the room. Now, these folks know my bi-polar and past thoughts of suicide history and are kind, gentle people that I think truly care but could not bring themselves to even comment on my remark. I think that what I was looking for was for someone to ask me about it so they could understand the incredible agony of someone is in when they are in that state of mind.
    One tragic part of suicidal thoughts is that you want relief and help at the same time and the easiest help is the relief.

    1. You make a good point. Wanting someone to understand is so important because in pain, we feel so alone. I’m sure some of them have felt that way, too, but it was something they learned never to say outloud. That’s too bad. I know you felt isolated by their reponse, but maybe some of them were isolating themselves. I’ll listen anytime you want to share agony, I can understand. You are very brave, but we shouldn’t have to be brave. People would be so much better off if we could speak about it openly!

  2. Hi Jodi,

    This is an important topic and I am glad you wrote about it today, especially with the huge number of suicide cases all over the place 🙂

    I think it’s SO important to calm and talk to the person who is thinking on these lines. Talking works best so that they are able to speak of what’s going on within them because such thoughts of suicide occur due to various reasons, some of which are due to what goes on within them. More so, when they don’t have any outlet or person to talk to, it can reach the other extreme. I like your planning part too, though I wish people would have more time and patience to really take care of such a person.

    Thanks for sharing. Have a nice week ahead 🙂

  3. Perhaps we can now all have a conversation in this country about suicide. One that does not consist of suicides being LOSERS and “un-salvageable”. My son Ben’s suicide devastated my life and the lives of all that knew him. He was beautiful and brilliant and hard working. He was an incredible father and a much beloved son. But he is dead all the same. Robin William’s death to suicide is crushing me today. Every 40 seconds around the world and every 15 minutes in the U.S., someone completes suicide. Sometimes, mental illness can be fatal. That fatality is called suicide. people do not COMMIT suicide any more than they COMMIT CANCER. It is not a matter of simple semantics. It is important to stop seeing mental illness and suicide in judgmental ways that create stigma, and part of that is changing how we speak of it. Thank you Jodi, for posting some timely and creative ways to deal with the discomfort of discussing suicide. If it is not talked about, there is no hope for it to lessen, much less end. This is not just something that happens to “other people”. It can happen to anyone. Suicide is the absence of all hope. ANY person can get there. Lending hope instead of judgement can save a life. We are all capable of doing that.

    1. I do think that any person can get there. And so we have to be caring and loving to eveyone we meet. Maybe they are at the end of their rope, and maybe we can make their last days a bit better, or alter the projection of their lives. I’m so sorry for your son. It is devastating. And it only opens us up to the devastation he felt. I’m glad people are talking today, and I realize that there is so much to say. I can talk about it for a long time.

      Thank you, Chris, for coming by. Big hug to you today. I think so many people are feeling this deeply since it is triggering everyone who has ever thought about suicide,or has been touched by suicide, or has been touched by Robin. Let’s keep up the conversation!

      1. It’s funny, I looked up this subject and came across my own post, (which I had even forgotten I’d written) and finally saw your reply. Thanks for the hug. Nobody can get too many of those. This culture is pretty fast to judge and short on compassion. Your videos mean a lot to me. They remind me that somebody gives a sh** enough to bother. Thank you for what you do.

  4. Jodi,

    I too was saddened by the loss of such an amazing individual as Robin Williams. I so wish the people who knew him best had this advice in time. This is such a wonderful guide for family members, friends and therapists of those struggling with the deepest depression. Thanks for this detailed, thoughtful post.

    Lisa W. Rosenberg recently posted..“Pretty” is the Wrong QuestionMy Profile

    1. That may not be a quick answer. I find out out as many details as I could about the cutting- when and why and the good and bad effects. I try to eliminate shame and judgment of any kind, if it is there. If a person doesn’t want to stop, I find out why, and if they do, we make a plan. But, I counsel to the person, not the problem. I try to find out more about who they are and what is important to them. We grow a new story. If the cutting is a effect of a traumatic past we heal that so the cutting is no longer needed. And much more. Hope that helps. How would you like to be helped if you could be?

  5. As someone that suffers from anxiety and depression issues I have been on and off medications since college. Even on meds I have contiplated suicide. While the meds help balance the chemicals or your moods they cannot stop thoughts or issues outside of your control. And even some meds for depressive disorders have been proven to heighten thoughts of suicide. As someone dealing with this everyday I firmly believe what saved me was not only my meds, but talk therapy and a change in lifestyle. I have changed my diet and exercise.
    Everyday I am scared to death that I will come to a place where I think suicide is the answer. But I know I am taking the proper actions to make sure that doesn’t happen.

  6. I am struggling with cutting. I am just hurting so much and yesterday all I did was cry all day. Then I decided to cut. I have thought about suicide before. Trying to heal from six trauma’s is a lot to deal with and I am trying to fight the depression.

    1. I know Jewels, I’m so sorry. Artemis was great because you were surrounded by people who reminded you that you matter. Now you are pretty isolated. It is hard to counter those awful thoughts when you are isolated. I hope you find a job soon! It’ll really help! <3
      Jodi Aman recently posted..Love up instead of worrying down My Profile

      1. Jodi,

        I isolate so much and at Artemis that was the most connected I have been to any one in forever. I never let any one that close. I feel like I need another month or two of being really connected to people and need to talk about what the guys did to me. I never want to be held, but I want to be held and want to cry with someone being there.

        1. I’d like to see you connected for the rest of your life. We all need connection. If you just had a month, you’d feel great, but then you’d feel bad again when it was gone. Top priority! Create a community for yourself!

          1. Jodi,

            I have no idea how to connect to people. I mean I want a connection like I had at Artemis where people were real. If you asked how they were they told the truth. They did not say the normal fine and we could really be real. That is the connection I want and that seems impossible in the real world

            1. The people you met there were open. People in the real world are usually scared. But you can get past that. Observe people around you. Just watch them, you’ll notice the good people. Go towards them.

    1. Bob, I am not sure, we’d have to ask them. They all seem happy on fb today. I’m sure they had more ups and downs in life, just like all of us. Sometimes I think we make a difference and no one even knows.

      But it is still worth it. So many parents ask me how their kids are responding to therapy, and I pause thinking this is a crazy question. I turn to the teens and ask them if they feel it is beneficial or not. How would I know? (Of course I check it to make sure it is going OK, but then I would just be reporting what they told me anyway.) 🙂

    1. Tina,
      I think this changed the whole way I thought about suicide. I learned it from my narrative therapy teacher Michael White. He was genius like this. I write about it in my Absent But Implict book.

      And I am sure it has something to do with not losing anybody in 10 years of working with people of all ages who really want to die. (but don’t.) But as you can imagine, this line of inquiry, makes people feel empowered rather than disempowered.

      I hope it helps what you have been going through. This may be new questions to ask your mom. The answers are sometimes not what we imagined.

      I also have a line of inquiry for families who lost someone to suicide.
      Jodi Aman recently posted..7 ways to help someone stop thinking of suicideMy Profile

  7. I wish there were more people like you in the world. I used to think that only counselors can understand because they are “trained” to believe or to take it serously, but I was so wrong. I also thought that people who lived the same are more likely to believe, but again I was wrong because instead of listening they start comparing situations and minimizing your pain. It takes someone really special to do what you do, to say “you can call” instead of saying, there are plenty of resources, call this helpline or even worse, go to hospital.
    All the points you mentioned are so important. To # 2 “understand” I would add “believe” because as silly as it seems, if you feel they don’t believe you, you think of it strongr to prove you are not joking. Touch them and stay with them, of course but without lecturing, maybe just say I’m here even if you’re at the other part of the world. I love the part of making a plan, because when there is a plan, you feel safe even if you’ll never use it.
    I’m just so angry. I’m so upset and angry
    Nikky44 recently posted..I challenged the FearMy Profile

    1. I see what you mean about believing. When something is important to us, and it is invalidated, we we defend it. Defending our horrible story, is defending our worth and going against ourselves at the same time. What are you upset and angry about?

      1. I’m not sure I understand what you mean by going against ourselves. By believing here, I was only talking about believing the intensity of the pain or the desire to end it. Upset and angry? I could fill a page yesterday, but it all passes, except fear.
        Nikky44 recently posted..I challenged the FearMy Profile

        1. Sometimes when we are invalidated by somebody not believing or not understanding, we emphasize it more so maybe they would understand. But while you are convincing someone, for example, that you CAN’T do something, you are also convincing yourself. Diminishing your own hope. Argue your limitations and they become truths in your mind.

          1. If someone feels suicidal as a reaction to something that has hurt him, distraction is so important, just the fact of not being alone at that moment can save his life, but what about the people who have planned it for very long? Can they get help too?
            Nikky44 recently posted..I challenged the FearMy Profile

  8. Sebastian Aiden Daniels

    These are great tips that I think are of benefit to anyone who is in the situation. As someone who has experienced being suicidal, I think 1 and 6 are so important. It took me years before I was comfortable enough with a therapist to tell them that I had suicidal urges in the past week. That fear is there. It is important to stay calm like you said because if you react intensely then it will cause them to not reach out in the future.

    I think 6 is important too. You don’t want to die, you just want to escape the pain and suicide seems like the only option in the present moment to do that. I think just talking to them/being there for them is so important. Thanks for the tips.

  9. Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com

    Hi Jodi. This is a very important post and with your experience very valuable. I’ll bet most of us have wondered what the best thing to do in such a circumstance and now I feel better know that. Thank you. ~Kathy

  10. Hi Jodi,
    I DM you on twitter asking to talk to you and you suggested to comment on your website 🙂
    On twitter I’d talked a few times to a young women battling acute OCD self harm and couldn’t tell her family, who she lived w/, and who made jokes of her behaviour. When she told me she was suicidal I kept urging her to call the helpline numbers I’d given her.
    She said her family would be angry with her as they don’t accept she is unwell think she’s just difficult to live with. I then found out she was only 17y/o no license no way of getting to help. She was isolated.
    We talked a couple of mins more then she became agitated and desperate and said she was deleting her twitter acc. I haven’t heard from her since.
    I attempted suicide myself some yrs ago and know that feeling of being so alone, helpless and desperate. I’m worried for her, frustrated I couldn’t be with her.
    I know I can’t do the impossible but is there any advise you can give me, please Jodi, as to what to do if I talk online to someone who says they feels suicidal?


    1. Debbie,
      You are so kind and loving to have spent that time with her. Sometimes that is all we need.

      This may be hard to hear, but other people aren’t our responsibility. We can only give. People make their own decisions. What you did was exactly the kindest you could do. Other than what is in this article, there is no advice that I could give you that would have made her listen, get help and tell you that she is fine now.

      At 17, if she is savvy enough to get help on twitter, then, she is savvy enough to get some other help if she chooses.

      Love her, believe in her. She has the skills to make it through this. Focus your energy on what you can do. Watch my video Love Them Up To You.

      This was not a failure. I believe you helped her. Even if she didn’t hear you that night, what you gave her is there for whenever she says yes to it. Send her good energy, just by imaging it being around her.

  11. This was a heartfelt article. I believe everyone should stop and read this. Like you, someone in my High School took her own life because of a breakup. She had a promising future and was a senior in high school. It broke my heart to hear how a breakup could cause a suicide. Fast forward 22 years later to the year 2011, I went through a spell due to a breakup. If only the people that I knew were armed with this information that you presented, I would’ve been out the spell sooner. What I received instead were finger pointing and telling me to deal with it myself.

    Suicide and depression are real and it must be addressed. We care more about celebrities than we do someone who lives next door. Blessed is the celebrity and cursed is the next door neighbor who commits suicide or even thinks it.
    Tremayne Moore recently posted..Tremayne Moore on Let’s Talk About It RadioMy Profile

    1. I guess I don’t see that the neighbor is cursed. Tons of people are awakened when someone takes their own life. It’s a shock and so sad.

      I am sorry you felt judgment instead of comfort. This happens because some people are afraid. I guess when you next a compassionate heart, make sure you find someone who is not scared and can focus on you.

      I am so glad you liked the article! Hugs!

  12. I want to add something. If someone admits he’s feeling suicidal, the worst thing to say is: I can’t deal with that, call a suicide hotline. It’s OK to feel we’re not ready or capable or scared to deal with it, but instead of rejecting the person, one can help her make the call or say I worry not to be qualified enough for that, why not call a specialist and I will be here with you. All the suicide hotlines are a great help and wonderful people but they are usefull for those who feel like they have no one to call, not for those who made the effort and admitted how they feel. That is my opinion. Am I wrong?
    Nikky44 recently posted..I challenged the FearMy Profile

  13. A emphatic listening might help. abusive phrases and non verbal poor cues from others are sufficient to place a person over the edge.. specialists want to analyze this lesson in addition to they are able to get rid of the handiest desire this is left. Thanks for sharing it God bless

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