Tips on Dealing with a Suicidal Person

DungarvanParadeSuicide is not so much a choice to die, as it is a way of solving the problem of emotional pain when every other alternative appears to have failed and no other option seems available. There is no way to predict what combination of life circumstances might lead a person to experience suicidal thoughts and feelings. Everyone has a potential breaking point.

Hearing that one of our fellow members feels suicidal can be a most distressing and frightening scenario for any caring, well-meaning family including our GROW ‘family’. We want to say the ‘right thing’ although we may not know what the ‘right thing’ is at that time. We don’t want to say the ‘wrong thing’ for fear of making matter worse. We can feel, momentarily at least as helpless and frightened as the person seeking help. What do we do? What can we do?

What we CAN’T do

We cannot prevent the death of someone who is determined to take his/her own life. Tragically suicide has exsisted since the beginning of time and the chances are it will exsist until the end of time. It occurs even in the midst of loving families, caring communities and professional care facilities.

While GROW offers friendly help and the practical wisdom of its Program and Caring & Sharing community we MUST recognise that there are limits to the help we can offer to someone in a life-threatening mental health crisis, which usually requires skilled or professional intervention.

What we CAN do. Offer Support by:

  1. Listening and try to connect with how the person is feeling ie ‘it sounds like you feel frightened, hopeless, powerless, alone, trapped, overwhelemed etc’. Let the person talk. Short empathic acknowledgements of feelings are enough to start the process and can be soothing.
  2. Letting the person know they do not have to struggle in isolation, that the group is concerned and ready to help in whatever way is reasonably possible. Remember we offer help, but in a way that fosters personal responsibility. (‘We really hope you won’t do that’; ‘How can we help you?’ ‘What do you need from the group?’)
  3. Emphasising what is: ‘We’re so glad you came in tonight and shared with the group how bad it is for you’. ‘I really admire you honesty’. ‘It takes great courage to tell the group you are feeling suicidal’. ‘You are not alone now’.

Define the problem and look for options

  1. The 4 Stablising questions is key to putting overwhelming feelings into a managable perspective.
  2. If ‘everything’ appears to be going wrong invite the person to name the ‘stressors’. Help sift through the issues to see whats important. Ask the person can they see a solution or option they may not have thought about.
  3. Try and elicit who the person trusts, loves, respects.

Emphasise that the GROW group truly values the person and believes others value him/her too.

Finding what relationships are important to the person helps and is a reminder of others who care. It may be a Family member, Friend, Group member, Counsellor. Strongly encourage making contact and offer to make that contact if needs be. (‘Would you allow me to contact your Sister, Wife, Counsellor’…).

Encourage Making a Plan

  1. Questions like ‘Can you stay safe tonight?’ ‘What do you need to keep you safe tonight until you speak to your G.P.?’ can help the person make a commitment to the group and to self-care.
  2. Ask the person to promise to stay in regular touch with group members. Even a suicidal person usually feels obliged to keep a solemn promise.
  3. If the person lives alone offer to check in at regular intervals if the person agrees it would be helpful. (‘I will ring at …o clock to see if you are ok’).
  4. Share what you know has worked in other similar situations. If the person is alone make sure the person has phone numbers if things get too much i.e. Samaritans (free phone 116 123), Local Crisis nurse, local Doctor on call. Group members can help here by being one of the planned supports.

If you feel all your efforts have failed or the person in question is overwhelmed with distress and anxiety, disintegrating or has made an attempt to harm themselves i.e. taking an overdose you must


We may need to accompany the person to hospital, G.P. Crisis Nurse. It may not be always safe for you alone to do so as you may not know the person well or may not be feeling able or willing to do this. Therefore we need the support of other members, family or friends of the person in crisis.


  1. Panic…Provide a calm presence and draw on the strength of the Program and the Members.
  2. Make promises you can’t keep.
  3. Say ‘Everything will be fine’ or ‘I know how you feel’…It may not and you don’t!
  4. Lecture.
  5. Presume that people who talk about suicide are not really serious.
  6. Ever put your own safety at risk. Make every effort to involve a third party at the earliest opportunity.

If someone does take their own life

  1. Emphasise to the group that the overwhelming majority who attend our meetings benefit (from the spectrum of minor to life-changing help). Suicide is extremely rare among active members. Credit members for keeping the group going and open to those who need it.
  2. Emphasise that GROW is something that works slowly over many months and years, but only if members actively engage. GROW never offers a quick fix and no group can expect to find magic words to help a suicidal person in a few meetings.
  3. Ensure that you find trusted friends to share your grief with. Also trust the group’s ability to acknowledge, share and come to terms with their grief. The healing is in the open sharing, active listening and use of the GROW Program.

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