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How to Talk to Suicidal Callers

How to Talk to Suicidal Callers

by Kevin Caruso

If you ever receive a phone call from someone who is suicidal, there are several things that you will want to do:

Listen attentively to everything that the caller says, and try to learn as much as possible about what the caller's problems are.

Allow the caller to cry, scream or swear. Suicidal feelings are very powerful, so let them come out.

Stay calm, and be supportive, sympathetic, and kind.

Do not be judgmental or invalidate the person's feelings. Let the caller express emotions without negative feedback.

After you have a good understanding of the caller's problems, summarize the problems back to him or her. This helps to preclude misunderstandings and demonstrates to the caller that you are being attentive.

Then ask the caller, "Are you feeling so bad that you are thinking about suicide?"

If the answer is yes, ask, "Have you thought about how you would do it?"

If the answer is yes, ask, "Do you have what you need to do it?"

If the answer is yes, ask, "Have you thought about when you would do it?"

Here are those four important questions in abbreviated form:

  1. Suicidal?
  2. Method?
  3. Have what you need?
  4. When?

The reason for asking these questions is to assess the level of risk of suicide for the caller. If the caller answers yes to three or four questions, the risk is very high, and immediate treatment is necessary. Try to get the individual to call 911 or go to an emergency room.

If the caller answered yes to one or two questions, try to determine if immediate treatment is necessary. If you deem that it is, try to get the individual to call 911 or go to an emergency room.

At a minimum, you should try to get the individual to see a therapist and a medical doctor as soon as possible. Gently explain that he or she probably has clinical depression or something similar and thus has a chemical imbalance in the brain, and that this is a very common condition, but definitely needs to be treated.

Only let the person go when you are sure that he or she is not in immediate danger of suicide. And, again, before you let the person go, emphasize that it is imperative that treatment is received. It is not an option, it is a requirement.

Thank you for helping,

Kevin Caruso

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