How Do I Help Someone with Suicidal Thoughts?

Take Them Seriously

Thoughts or threats of suicide can be frightening and need urgent attention. Dr. Mike Emlet, counselor and faculty member at Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), encourages people to take the victim seriously and expand the circle of friends and professional help. 

Mike Emlet practiced as a family physician for 12 years before joining the CCEF. He holds an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania as well as a Master of Divinity degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He has authored Asperger Syndrome, Help for the Caregiver, OCD, and Angry Children, and CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet.  

Mike said there’s one significant thing to keep in mind when talking to someone with suicidal thoughts: Take them seriously. After that, he said your approach should depend on how much experience you have with dealing with such serious issues. 

  • If you’re a friend with no training, you should get someone else involved who has more experience than you do. 
  • If you have more experience, you should continue to probe with questions. 

If someone came to you with suicidal thoughts, would you have experience that would be helpful, or would you need to invite someone else into the conversation?
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If you don’t have enough experience to manage the conversation on your own, who are some people you can enlist to help you? Make a list, knowing that the person who comes to you might have some people, too.
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If you’re someone with more counseling experience, share a time you’ve had to talk through suicidal thoughts with someone else. How did your conversations go? What were your greatest fears? How did the conversations resolve?
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Mike said that the more questions you ask someone at risk, the better idea you will have of how imminent the danger of their situation is. Also, sometimes the more you talk to a person at risk, the more he or she feels cared for and understood. You could be a beacon of hope for them.  

What are some questions you might consider asking in order to comfort a person with suicidal thoughts?
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Talking through a suicidal person's struggle will help you determine if hospital treatment, medication, or more can help. Remember that most importantly, though, your job in response to someone at risk of suicide is to take them seriously and enlarge the group of people who are helping them. Life is a sacred gift, and your care for people in pain could be what brings them hope and, eventually, healing.  

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