By Dr. Kay Bruce
If you are in crisis and need immediate help, call ...
The National Suicide Prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-784-2433
1. What should I do if I think someone is considering suicide?
Ask. An irony in our culture is that a majority of movies and many television shows have references to suicide, some even include graphic scenes. But to ask someone if they are thinking about suicide seems too personal and intense. Yet, think about it. If you were considering ending your own life, wouldn’t you want to talk with someone about that decision?
One of the best ways to prevent suicide is by making it safe for a person in despair to talk about their feelings and to connect them with helpful resources. Ask the question, “Are you hurting so much that you are thinking about suicide?” It’s a simple question, but it can make a huge difference.
2. How do you know when to ask about suicide?
If you are concerned about someone, if they seem depressed, in despair, or if you notice any of the following risk factors, don’t wait. Ask the question!
- Persistent sadness or depression
- Uncharacteristic irritability
- A strong sense of failure
- Major conflict with family
- A recent major loss of a loved one, friend, parent, or mentor–especially if by suicide
- A recent experience of significant humiliation or shame
- A breakup of a significant friendship or close relationship
- Withdrawal, alienation, or loneliness
- Comments about others being better off without them or not wanting to live
- Increased alcohol consumption or drug use
3. What should I do if someone tells me that they are contemplating suicide?
Do not wait. Immediately communicate how much you care about him/her and connect them to resources:
- Call a crisis line (800-873-TALK or 360-696-9560)
- Go online to Youth Suicide Prevention Program (YSPP) or to the American Association of Suicidology
- If the risk is high, call 911 or help them to go to a hospital emergency room
- Schedule an appointment with a professional counselor
- Create a group of safe, caring people and stay in close contact with them during the crisis
- Ask the person to agree to safety and sobriety until they get help
- Remove any guns, knives, drugs, pills, or other lethal means
4. Will asking the question make them more likely to commit suicide?
No. Suicide is so prevalent in our culture that this will not be a new idea. You are more likely to get an honest answer if you ask the question openly and directly.
5. Should I wait until I know for sure that the person is struggling?
No. If you are concerned, ask the question. It is better to ask now then to regret later.
6. Is faith the answer to the problem?
Our faith in God is a source of great peace in the midst of our most trying circumstances. But, when someone is experiencing great pain, they may be angry with God, feel guilty about a lack of faith, or believe that God has abandoned them or does not care about them. It is important to listen to what resources are helpful to the person in the moment. Praying with them or connecting them with a pastor may be a source of great help, but it can also add to the problem if the person is already feeling guilty or distressed about their faith. (Even as recorded in the Bible, people of great faith sometimes struggled with wanting to live—see 1 Kings 19:4 and God’s response of giving Elijah food and rest.)
The power of the gospel is definitely the ultimate answer to their problem. But, in the moment of crisis, you need to exercise discernment. Listening to their story, hearing the sources of pain, and responding in a way that makes the person feel safe is important. Helping someone to stay alive in the moment makes it possible for a gradual restoration or building of their faith over time in the months or years to come. (*Note: You may need to point them to professional help.)
7. Is there help for the family members or friends who are grieving the loss of someone by suicide?
- Agree to help each other be honest about our struggles to prevent further suicide
- Go online to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)
- Assist them to join a support group with other survivors of suicide
- Help them seek a trusted pastor, counselor, or friend to talk about the pain
- Ask about stories and memories of their loved one—it helps to remember and tell even through tears
8. How can I get more information about suicide intervention?
There are many sources of good information. Stop the pain–care enough to ask the question and seek help!
- National Suicide Prevention hotline: 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-273-8255
- Crisis Line: 800-873-TALK or 360-696-9560
- Listen to the “Funeral Message for Luke Kenneth Anderson”, a sermon by John Piper for a member of his church who committed suicide after struggling with depression.
- Go to Finding Truth Matters to read more about suicide from a Christian perspective.
- Read “When Suicide Strikes in the Body of Christ” to be assured that neither life nor death, not even suicide, can separate us from the love of God.
- Suicide Prevention Workshops: at Western Seminary, email firstname.lastname@example.org
For Helping Others
- Shepherding Women in Pain by Dr. Bev White Hislop. (Moody Publishers, 2010) Depression, infertility, terminal illness, chronic pain, aging, addiction, abortion recovery, eating disorders, suicide, domestic abuse, and divorce are all topics men and women in ministry to women encounter, yet many are not prepared for this aspect of ministering to women dealing with these real and painful issues. Hislop has compiled true-life stories and contributor expertise and experience with women on each given issue, including suicide. This practical resource will help you to help women in pain by providing an understanding of the issue, shepherding insights, resources, related Scriptures, and the expert author’s biography.
- Counseling Suicidal People by Dr. Paul Quinnett. (The QPR Institute Inc., 2000)This hands-on book provides tools and steps for anyone connected with and trying to help a person considering suicide. Dr. Quinnet’s straightforward yet compassionate style of communication clearly conveys sound strategies for intervening and working with suicidal individuals.
- When Life Goes Dark by Richard Winter. (IVP, 2012) Approximately one in eight will have a severe depressive episode at some point in their life. Women experience depression twice as often as men. And over fifty percent of people with serious depression do not get adequate help. Drawing upon Richard Winter’s experience in clinical psychiatry, counseling, and biblical reflection, this book is a comprehensive and compassionate guide for those who find themselves, their loved ones or those they counsel to be suffering from depression. Christian misunderstandings are dispelled while Winter presents a framework for understanding depression and how God can bring healing.
For Personal Help
- Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers & Hope by Albert Y. Hsu (IVP, 002) Suicide is one of the most serious public health crises of modern times taking over one million lives worldwide each year. If you have lost a loved one to suicide or provide pastoral care to those who have, this helpful book with take you through the process of healing as author, Albery Hsu, shares his own account of losing his father by suicide. You are not alone as you wrestle with deep emotional and spiritual questions surrounding suicide. Although there are no easy answers, Hsu points you to God who provides comfort and hope during the shock, denial, and grieving process without minimizing the importance of grief.
- Broken Minds: Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You're Losing It by Steve Bloem (Kregel Publications, 2005) This book shares a family’s struggle with mental illness while trying to find their place in the body of Christ. Mental illness can be more subtle and much more prevalent than many expect. Christians who are clinically depressed or have been diagnosed with a mental illness can feel the guilt from Christian leaders who claim their problems are spiritual instead of physical or emotional. This informative book is both scripturally and clinically sound as it breaks down old perceptions of mental illness and depression and provides hope for healing.
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