Helper Tasks – How You Can Help Someone Who’s Suicidal

Here are some ways you can help a person at risk for suicide:

  • Engage – Engage the person at risk in a personable way, use eye contact, give your full attention, don’t let yourself get distracted.
  • Explore – Explore their situation from his or her point of view by encouraging the open expression of their personal concerns. Show that you want to understand their feelings.
  • Identify – Identify whether or not the person is currently thinking about suicide. As you learn more about the persons thoughts and feelings, you may get more clues that he or she is considering suicide. Be direct, ask questions: “Are you thinking about suicide”? This can give the person at risk permission to talk about his or her suicidal thoughts and possible plans. If their answer doesn’t sit right with you don’t be afraid to ask again later in the conversation.
  • Inquire – If the person is indeed contemplating suicide, you need to inquire into the reasons why these events and feelings are leading to a consideration of suicide at this time. Why now? Having developed a deeper understanding of the persons at-risk reasons, you can then work together  to find other ways out of the situation then suicide.
  • Assess – Use closed questions that require a yes/no answer. Be specific.  The questions you ask at this point address the persons plan for suicide and information about prior suicidal behavior. Your assessment is a combination of gut feelings and an assessment of risk factors you have learned about. In a situation where a person’s life is at stake, it is better to do too much than not enough.


  • Be specific – Details about what’s to be done must be clearly understood. Being specific is very important. Leaving things vague and non-specific can be dangerous.
  • Limit objectives – Remember that your job is to help until the immediate danger, or threat of suicide, has passed. The action plan is not meant to be a total solution for all the person’s problems. Be realistic. Do not make false promises or resort to phony statements (For example: “You will feel better tomorrow”.
  • Work together – Both you and the person at-risk are committing to fulfilling your responsibilities according to the plan. You are mutually agreeing to a commitment to life.
  • Confirm the commitment – The person at-risk agrees not to engage in any self-harming behavior for an agreed upon time. Ask the person to repeat the agreement out loud; both of you will experience a feeling of relief. If you don’t experience a feeling of relief, get the person to help immediately.
  • Develop crisis control – Build in some arrangement for emergency support if the steps of your plan for action cannot be carried out or if the commitment cannot be maintained until the set follow-up time. ( For example, have the person call the national suicide hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or paramedics.)
  • Spell out the follow-up –  Set the date and time for another meeting between you and the person at risk, or between the person at risk and whatever follow-up resources you have agreed to (such as meeting with the school counselor.)

For more ways you can help read “Suicide: How You Can Help Someone at Risk

This is a free hotline available 24 hours a day to anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.

International readers can click here for a list of helplines and crisis centers around the world.

Click here to locate a therapist in your area

Return to our Suicide Prevention Advice Page

Related Articles:
Coping Suggestions for the Suicidal Person
The Do’s and Don’ts of Suicide Prevention
Suicide: The Warning Signs

Suicide: How You Can Help Someone at Risk

Busting the Myths About Suicide

About the Author

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Dr. Lisa Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Dr. Firestone speaks at national and international conferences in the areas of couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention. Dr. Firestone has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003) and The Self Under Siege (Routledge, 2012). Follow Dr. Firestone on Twitter or Google.

Related Articles

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply