What NOT to say to a suicidal person . . .

What NOT to say to a suicidal person . . .

Perhaps a friend or loved one has just told you about a desire to die, or perhaps you suspect that they are having trouble with suicidal thoughts because of other warning signs that you’ve seen.  Rather than shrink away from the challenge, your instinct is probably to want to help in some way, right?  Knowing what to say is important, and we’ve talked about how to help someone with suicidal thoughts in another post but knowing what NOT to say is extremely important as well.

Here are 10 common statements that may tend to make things worse instead of better as you try to intervene with someone considering suicide:

  1. “Surely your life is not that bad.” You may not believe this person has such a bad life, but their perception, not yours, is their reality.  It’s not always about the things we see taking place on the outside, but the intractable inward pain that people deal with that will drive them to consider suicide as an option.  Telling them “it’s not that bad” shows a lack of empathy and understanding, and worse, may convey a sense of disbelief and judgment.
  2. “How could you think of hurting me like that?” Suicidal thinking comes from a short-circuit of the normal thinking processes.  In other words, a person considering suicide does not think he or she is going to hurt others; rather, the thought is that his or her suicide will actually make things better for the people left behind.
  3. “Why would you be so selfish?” When one is in pain, it is a natural response to want to find a way to escape that pain.  Asking this question only changes the conversation to make it about you – and a suicidal person needs for you to listen and make it about them.
  4. “Suicide is such a cowardly act!” That statement would certainly inspire shame in the person considering suicide.  Overcoming the fear of death actually doesn’t seem cowardly at all.  That doesn’t make completing the act something we should endorse, but it does mean that we should pause before making such a statement.
  5. “You don’t mean it; you don’t really want to die.” Dismissing the feelings of a suicidal person may only increase the intentions that have been expressed.  Every person should be taken seriously.  If he or she doesn’t really want to die, you can find that out in the course of conversation with them.  Even then, they likely still need help.
  6. You have so much to live for.” Saying this means you have not yet listened to the person who is having suicidal thoughts, and you have conveyed a lack of understanding about how he or she perceives the situation.  This may be an appropriate comment later in a suicide intervention conversation but should not be one of the first things you would say.
  7. “Come on, things could be worse.” Perhaps they could, but saying that does nothing to inspire a sense of hope; in fact, it may reinforce the idea that escaping the pain now is better than waiting until things get worse.
  8. “Other people have problems worse than yours, and they don’t want to die.” People who are considering suicide have probably already given some thought to the way others seem to be more capable of handling their problems.  That awareness has simply caused them to view themselves as too weak, and in their self-condemnation they have determined that suicide may be the only option.
  9. “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” This is another statement that comes across as dismissive.  It could very well be that the problem that has brought your friend or loved one to this place of darkness is not something that will go away.  We should not say anything that would leave the impression that suicide is a solution at all.
  10. “If you commit suicide, you will go to hell.” Perhaps the person has already considered that possibility, especially if their religion teaches that suicide is unforgiveable.  Perhaps they do not believe in hell at all, or perhaps their religious belief leaves room for hope that forgiveness for the act is possible.  Either way, the wish to die still remains, and alienating the person with this statement may very well compromise your ability to help them when they need it most.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please reach out to us at m.me/callforbackup.org/.  If you are in crisis now and need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK, or text the keyword BADGE to 741741 to be connected to a trained crisis counselor.  Whether you are considering suicide, or trying to help someone who is considering suicide, it’s time to call for backup.

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