What would you say to a young man who told you he was about to commit suicide? “Don’t do it. For God’s sake, don’t do it.” And you’d read all about him the next day in the newspaper.
People who are suicidal don’t reach out because they want someone to talk them out of it. They want empathetic listening to help them process their feelings and thoughts. And so your job is to…listen.
Suicidal people are missing hope, a reason to go on, any reason. Don’t shy away from talking about death. To them, it’s both an emotional and logical option. Listen to their reasons and accept them as legitimate – before offering better options. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is Steven Covey’s fifth habit.
Perhaps a young woman is considering suicide because she has battled depression for several years, has sought professional help, and nothing has worked. “Yes, yes, of course,” you say, “but the professionals you are seeing may not be the right ones, and another medication may be effective, and even a person with treatment-resistant depression can be helped by new electrical stimulation techniques, as well as the old one of electroconvulsive therapy. And if even that doesn’t help, many people have learned to live and even thrive with depression, making lemonade from even the sourest of lemons. There is always hope.”
Finally, offer to stand by a person considering suicide and let him know he is not alone; you’ll help in any way you can. That’s what I do as a coach for those in depression. If you feel you aren’t able or willing to walk with him, find someone who can. As you do so, ask him for some time.