Information for professional or other counselors and family when endeavoring to help individuals who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideation. Compassionate counseling in times of crisis and afterwards.
This page has been professionally reviewed and edited by a mental health professional
with a PhD in psychology.
Photo: Luka Krstulovic, Feb 2007
(Persons in photo for illustrative purposes only and not related to topic of this page).
1. Be a good listener. You should not be overly concerned over the exact wording if when you speak with love and demonstrate genuine care for the one who you are counseling. Demonstrate your sincerity by talking to them, holding them while they cry or otherwise comforting them. A suicidal person usually is carrying around some burden that they feel they just can't handle anymore. Offer to listen as they vent their feelings of despair, anger and loneliness. Sometimes this is enough to lighten the load just enough for them to carry on.
2. Do not be judgmental or offer too many solutions in times of crisis
, it may not be the right moment for that. Wait until the sufferer has more control over the situation before giving attention to solution-oriented suggestions.
3. Stay calm and do not overreact
. Again, allow the individual with suicidal feelings to freely vent their emotions. Keep calm and endeavor to calm the individual as best as you can. Note that they may respond to your equanimity and calmness by realizing those feelings as within themselves. They may take their cue from you, and when those with emotional distress express their emotions verbally to a calm, patient and caring person, it can help to calm the most intense but passing feelings related to suicide.
Let them know that they can always come to you in a moment of crisis if they need to, that you are not offended and will not think any less of them. Under extreme pressure some people might say things they don't really mean. Don't react to everything that is said, but try to understand the expression of their feelings behind their words. If you are a spiritual counselor, family member or minister, praying with the individual at an appropriate moment can have a calming affect.
4. Be sympathetic, empathic, patient, calm, and accepting.
Do not belittle or minimize a person's feelings, even while trying to deescalate their feelings. Convey compassionate and sympathetic encouragement to them such as, "I understand how you feel. I have felt like that way sometimes myself," or, "I know other people who have said the same thing." "You are not alone." "God understands." "You're not crazy, this happens to many people." "You can pull through it in these ways."
Display empathy and compassion in your tone of voice when communicating to the one suffering.
5. Draw the person out by asking questions
, "Are you having thoughts of suicide, are you thinking of hurting yourself?" Most people don’t have definite plans and don’t follow through. Nevertheless, you need to be sensitive to the possibility of suicidal plans made by the individual.
The key components of suicidal intent include a plan, a means and an intention to commit suicide. Instilling hope may be crucial at the time a person is in this state.
6. Give the sufferer reassurance
; let them know their life has value. Reassure them that you personally value their life. Let them know that God values their life, that life is sacred. Remind them of positive accomplishments that they have made in their life, and remind them of situations where they have helped or cared for others in the past.
Help the suicidal individual to remember good things from the past, and instill a feeling of hope for the future.
7. Try to instill in the sufferer a feeling of hope.
Let them know that storms pass, and that if they get through this difficulty, there are better times ahead. The crisis is temporary, and the feelings of despair and sadness will not continue forever. They can and will recover, so "don’t give up".
8. Get further support from qualified counselors
, and, if the situation is serious, don't ignore the situation. Ongoing support can be an important safety measure.
. If the individual is a person of faith, or who appreciates spiritually-oriented scriptural expressions, sentiments such as found in the Psalms can be comforting and reassuring. Verses in the Psalms
such as found in Psalms 103 can be particularly soothing, comforting and reassuring; many of the Psalms were written as a positive outlet for emotional distress. The sentiments expressed by individuals under stress such as (Jewish King) David, who wrote the majority of the Psalms, many of them in times of crisis, may reflect some of the feelings of despair that the sufferer is experiencing and provide some relief as well as feelings of identifying with what is written.
Certain other circumstances may apply if the sufferer is non-religious. If the individual grappling with suicidal thoughts or his counselor is non-religious, or if in the context in which counseling takes place reflects non-religious attitudes, and spiritual matters are not appropriate to discuss, then the thoughts expressed in this paragraph can be applied in a non-religious context. Perhaps reading a poem, quote, or literary passage familiar to the individual, may provide comfort, reassurance of recovery, or identification with others who have overcome feelings of despair. There are some memoirs that can be shared which might provide inspiration, identity and encouragement for individuals who are experiencing feelings of suicide.
10. Go for a long walk together
. Allow them to talk while you are walking. This walk may be actual, brisk walking in itself, and it may contribute to positive thoughts. However, it also may be metaphorical in that walking may represent the journey away from thoughts of suicide and despair, walking away from hopelessness towards hope. It may be likened to or symbolized by a spiritual or mental walk away from feelings of suicide.
Brisk walking on a regular basis, daily, or nearly daily, has a positive affect on the emotions. Exercise contributes to the release of endorphins, a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of well-being, emotional or psychological. Moving forward toward better feelings and situations in which you can take control of your life, can help you leave behind what seemed to be a hopeless situation. Encourage the sufferer to walk for exercise and positive mental effects, and, and encourage them to walk briskly, on a regular basis.
This page discusses several points related to spirituality, and these particular points may have more application to those who are qualified to counsel in a religious context such as a minister, lay minister, or others, such as family members, who the sufferer recognizes as a source of spiritual encouragement. Spirituality can be a vital part of mental health, and for those who are non-religious, attention to spirituality has value on many levels. For all people, life is sacred, regardless if one is religious or not. This is a value that should be emphasized to any one who feels hopeless. Their life is sacred, and there is hope.
Please read the following:
Anyone who is on medication should not come off abruptly. Sudden change in one's medication regimen can cause problems. Anyone who has suicidal thoughts and is trying to come off of medication, should do so under a doctor's supervision and come off gradually.
This website is for informative and educational purposes only and any decisions that one makes in his or her treatment, or for their children are on a personal basis and by reading the information on this site, the reader acknowledges that the AYCNP bears no responsibility for individual decisions on mental health.
Suicide Prevention: These are some organizations concerned with suicide prevention:
National Suicide Prevention Directory Off-site link
Contact information for suicide prevention agencies. Listed by state.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Off-site link
Locate support groups for friends and families of suicide victims.
Suicide Awareness\Voices of Education Off-site link
Includes an FAQ, general information on suicide, some common statistics, symptoms of depression, literature.
Pages related to Suicide Counseling
Use of Marijuana - Suicide Risk
, Increase in Rate of Schizophrenia
Spirituality and Mental Health