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What NOT to say to someone who is suicidal, two men talking

5 Things NOT to say to someone who is suicidal and how to respond instead

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. If you, a friend or a loved one need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Learning what to say to someone who is suicidal is an important step in helping others. We all want to do the right thing when it comes to helping our friends and loved ones, but too often we choose the wrong words either out of frustration or just not knowing what to say. The words we do choose are crucial and can have a considerable impact on the person in crisis. Below are some things not to say and some guidance on what to say instead.

Don’t Say:

  1. “It’s not that bad,” “Stay positive” or “Don’t say that”: Belittling or invalidating a person’s feelings is not helping them. In fact, their ability to verbally express their feelings out loud is a big step in the right direction. Feel honored that they chose you to open up to and then help them through their tough situation.
  2. “I know how you feel” or “I would be devastated if you were gone”: It is impossible to know how someone else feels and insinuating that you do can be frustrating. Furthermore, these statements make the conversation about you when it should be about the other person.
  3. “You have a lot to live for”: When a person is severely depressed, they aren’t in the mindset of counting their blessings. Pointing out that they have a lot to live for doesn’t help their current situation.
  4. “Other people have it worse” or “You’re being selfish”: This isn’t a contest where some “deserve” the right to be depressed. When a person is struggling, what is most important is helping them with their reality, not comparing it to others.
  5. “You’ll go to hell”: Even if your religion holds this belief, keep in mind that many people may not share your beliefs, nor is it a helpful deterrent to someone who is in crisis.


How To Respond Instead:

When someone comes to you for help, let them know they are not alone and that you are there for them and offer to work through their issues together. Make sure to acknowledge their feelings and let them know how much they mean to you. Let them know it is OK to be sad. It is also important to say that you can’t understand how they are feeling but that you’d like to understand and offer your support and compassion.

Above all, listen and listen and then listen some more.

Ask “how can I help you?” and never judge, you can do your best to empathize with someone, but you can never truly know what they are feeling. Make sure they know that they are not alone and that you are not going to abandon them.

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About Choices Psychotherapy

Choice is the foundation for a change. Choice speaks to the reality that there is not one right answer for all.  At Choices Psychotherapy, we are committed to empowering clients and their families to identify options while assisting in creating a personal roadmap toward health and recovery.

Related: Depression