Information for professional (or other) counselors and family endeavoring to help individuals who are experiencing suicidal thoughts. This page advocates compassionate counseling in times of crisis and afterwards.
This page has been professionally reviewed and edited by a practicing mental health professional with a PsyD in psychology.
Photo: Luka Krstulovic, Feb 2007
(Persons in photo for illustrative purposes only and not related to topic on this page)
1. Be a good listener. You should not be overly concerned about exact wording when you speak with love and demonstrate genuine care for the one you are counseling. Demonstrate your sincerity by talking to them, holding them while they cry, or otherwise comforting them. A suicidal person is usually carrying around some burden that they feel they can no longer handle. 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 crises
. It is not the time 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 soothe the individual as best 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, this may help 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, and 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 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 emotions. Convey compassionate and sympathetic encouragement to them by saying things like: "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," and "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 lives have value. Reassure them that you personally value their lives. Let them know that God values them, that life is sacred. Remind them of their positive accomplishments, as well as 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 tell them, "Don’t give up."
8. Get further support from qualified counselors
. If the situation is serious, don't take a step back. Ongoing support can be an important safety measure.
9. Offer spiritual aid
. If the individual is a person of faith, or one who appreciates spirit-oriented scriptural expressions, sentiments such as those found in the Psalms can be comforting and reassuring. Verses in the Psalms
(like in Psalms 103) can be particularly soothing and reassuring; many of them were written as a positive outlet for emotional distress. The sentiments in the Psalms expressed by individuals under stress, such as those from (Jewish King) David who wrote 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 through 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 contribute to positive thoughts. However, it also may be metaphorical in that walking may represent the journey away from thoughts of suicide and despair, of 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 benefits, or 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. His or her 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: Here are some organizations who deal with suicide prevention:
National Suicide Prevention Directory (off-site link)
Contact information for suicide prevention agencies listed by state.
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, and literature.
Pages related to Suicide Counseling
Use of Marijuana - Suicide Risk
, Increase in Rate of Schizophrenia
Spirituality and Mental Health