Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part IV, Helping A Suicidal Person

Helping a suicidal person is a touchy subject.  Black’s booklet is addressed to people who want to help a person who is suicidal.  Black’s provides some tips to help a suicidal person:

  1. “Acknowledge the reality of [the person’s] pain.”
  2. “Help him see the connection between his pain and his felt need.” Get them to say, “Life without ___ [fill in the blank]___ will be unbearable because ___[fill in the blank]___.
  3. “Challenge constricted options and irrational thoughts.”
  4. “Explore [the person’s] perceptions of hopelessness.” How hopeless is the person feeling? Can the situation be rectified or is it hopeless?
  5. “Help the person to separate pain and need.”

Assessing risk
Black’s following guideline is a good way to assess whether a person is considering suicide:

1. Presenting problem – Assessment begins by evaluating the problem that triggered the downward spiral.  This is difficult to do if the person can’t identify any triggers.

2. Background information – Analyze the person’s life and personality to gain a better understanding of how and why he is driven to a point where he considers taking his own life.  A good warning sign: If someone says, "I can’t deal" repeatedly. "I can’t deal" really means, "I don’t have the appropriate coping skills to handle my situation."

3. Substance abuse – While a person who abuses drugs or alcohol may not be suicidal, the likelihood that a depressed person who abuses drugs or alcohol is.

4. Resources – Encourage the (potentially) suicidal individual to seek out a support network: family, friends, church, therapists, or social groups.  If a person feels needed, he is more likely to realize that his death will have a significant impact.  Perhaps he’ll think twice before making an attempt.

5. Suicidal thinking and intent

A.     "Evaluate the person’s felt experience." Use a mood scale from 1-10 to gauge how good or bad a person is feeling. (Feel free to use mine on the right.)
B.     "Determine how often the person has suicidal thoughts and how intense or compelling they are."  Frequent "passing" thoughts are no longer passing thoughts.
C.     Dry run. A person contemplating suicide might have “tried out” the way he plans on killing himself.

“Has she ever taken a few pills to see what it feels like, tied things around her neck, driven at high speed, or practiced with an unloaded gun? Dry runs help the person to resolve any ambivalence she might feel about suicide.”

If a person admits to attempting a “dry run,” the person likely is in extreme danger of following through.

6. Noble End – A person who is at the point of beautifying suicide as a glorious end to his life is completely disillusioned and should be seen as a high risk.  Watch out for talk of "No one needs me anymore" or "Everyone would be better off without me."

An addendum: A person who says "I hate myself" may be a suicidal risk, but not always.  An admission of self-hatred provides evidence that he may want to eliminate the hatred in some way.

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1 Comment

  1. April 3, 2007 at 10:39 am

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