Handling a call from a suicidal person
- Be yourself. “The right words” are unimportant. If you are
concerned, your voice and manner will show it.
- Listen. Let the person unload despair, ventilate anger. If given an
opportunity to do this, he or she will feel better by the end of the
call. No matter how negative the call seems, the fact that it exists is
a positive sign, a cry for help.
- Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm, accepting. The caller
has done the right thing by getting in touch with another person.
- If the caller is saying “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask
The Question: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You
are not putting ideas in his head, you are doing a good thing for him.
You are showing him that you are concerned, that you take him seriously,
that it is OK for him to share his pain with you.
- If the answer is yes, you can begin asking a series of further
questions: Have you thought about how you would do it (PLAN); Have you
got what you need (MEANS); Have you thought about when you would do it
(TIME SET). 95% of all suicidal callers will answer no at some point in
this series or indicate that the time is set for some date in the
future. This will be a relief for both of you.
- Simply talking about their problems for a length of time will give
suicidal people relief from loneliness and pent up feelings, awareness
that another person cares, and a feeling of being understood. They also
get tired -- their body chemistry changes. These things take the edge
off their agitated state and help them get through a bad night.
- Avoid arguments, problem solving, advice giving, quick referrals,
belittling and making the caller feel that has to justify his suicidal
feelings. It is not how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting
the person who has it.
- If the person is ingesting drugs, get the details (what, how much,
alcohol, other medications, last meal, general health) and call Poison
Control at _______________. A shift partner can call while you continue
to talk to the person, or you can get the caller’s permission and do it
yourself on another phone while the caller listens to your side of the
conversation. If Poison Control recommends immediate medical assistance,
ask if the caller has a nearby relative, friend, or neighbor who can
assist with transportation or the ambulance. In a few cases the person
will initially refuse needed medical assistance. Remember that the call
is still a cry for help and stay with him in a sympathetic and
non-judgmental way. Ask for his address and phone number in case he
changes his mind. (Call the number to make sure it’s busy.) If your
organization does not trace calls, be sure to tell him that.
- Do not go it alone. Get help during the call and debrief afterwards.
- Your caller may be concerned about someone else who is suicidal.
Just listen, reassure him that he is doing the right thing by taking the
situation seriously, and sympathize with his stressful situation. With
some support, many third parties will work out reasonable courses of
action on their own. In the rare case where the third party is really a
first party, just listening will enable you to move toward his problems.
You can ask, “Have you ever been in a situation where you had
thoughts of suicide?”
The most important pain-coping resource is the help of a
trained mental health professional.
A person who feels suicidal should get
help, and get it sooner rather than later.
By David L. Conroy, PhD. Reprinted with permission.
Credits and Link to: Metanio Suicide Page