Handling contact from a suicidal person.

Adapted from a suicide hot line check list

Be yourself. "The right words" are unimportant. 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 message. No matter how negative the contact seems, the fact that it exists is a positive sign, a cry for help.

Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm, accepting. The individual has done the right thing by getting in touch with another person.

If the individual is saying "Iím so depressed, I canít go on," ask The Question: "Are you having thoughts of suicide?" You are not putting ideas in their head they already have them, you are doing a good thing for them. You are showing them that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, that it is OK for them to share their 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 comunicating 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 individual feel that that they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not how bad the problem is, but how badly itís 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 1-800-222-1222. If Poison Control recommends immediate medical assistance, ask if the individual 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 what you have is still a cry for help and stay with them in a sympathetic and non-judgmental way. Ask for his address and phone number in case they change their mind.

Do not go it alone, Get help

An 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.

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Last modified: 02/09/09