General Question

canidmajor's avatar

What, exactly, could someone have said/done to maybe prevent a suicide?

Asked by canidmajor (18312points) March 27th, 2015
24 responses
“Great Question” (11points)

Recently, on FaceBook, I saw a post about someone (with whom I was vaguely acquainted) who had sadly taken her own life. The thread was filled with posts from well-meaning acquaintances saying such things as “I wish I had known she was depressed, I could have helped”. “If I had known things were that bad I would have said something.” If only she had sought help…”. This is not an isolated case, I have seen/heard such reactions again and again to news of a suicide.
Why do people assume that the suicidal person didn’t “reach out”? And, more specifically, what could the reached-out-to layman say or do that would actually help somehow?

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hominid's avatar

It is just something that people say. Death of any kind is challenging to deal with, and finding something appropriate to say is difficult. But suicide presents some interesting challenges, in my experience. It’s easy for friends and associates to find some amount of self-blame or missed opportunity creeping back on them. There are those pesky memories that creep up, and sometimes we re-play them as simulations where we add some kind of “help” that makes some difference. Then, we express this as some kind of condolence. While I think I understand why this type of statement is common, I do find it a bit narcissistic and naive. In my experience, people making these statements greatly underestimate the pain the person who committed suicide was in, while greatly inflating their own importance in this person’s life.

canidmajor's avatar

@hominid, the question was, indeed, written with a bit of cynicism, and I realize that most of the time statements like these are, indeed, platitudes (see the subject tags) but there are always a few that are vehement and serious. That’s where the intent of the question is.

ucme's avatar


Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

My experience has been that when someone is quite determined to take their life, they will not reach out and will just quietly go about their business. Obviously it’s very sad and often shocking to lose a friend or even acquaintance in such a way. I’d say it’s natural for those left behind, and especially if they’re very close to that person, to spend sometimes a lot of time, trying to understand whether they could have done something to change the person’s mind.

canidmajor's avatar

Guys, while I appreciate the responses, the question is, specifically, what people think they could have done or said.
This is a thought exercise rather than an exploration of why people behave that way.

hominid's avatar


Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

I don’t know what other people think they could have done. My opinion is they couldn’t do anything. Hence my first sentence.

ucme's avatar

Still nowt.

CWOTUS's avatar

Sometimes the only thing that will work is a physical intervention, that is, actually barring the person from taking the action that will result in death. But that’s only a stopgap; it can’t be maintained.

Behaviors that can be maintained would include regular (perhaps for a time even “constant”) reminders and goads to take appropriate medications (if prescribed) or to see a physician / psychiatrist / psychologist and start or modify a course of treatment, or even just to get the person into a healthier routine of wake-eat-sleep cycles. I’ve done both of those things after the failed attempt at suicide by a loved one; I had not had the least inkling or communication that things were awry before the event.

Buttonstc's avatar

The most helpful thing you could do would be to strongly urge them to get professional help. But even that isn’t a guarantee but suicide intervention isn’t for amateurs and this is a clear cut case of where a professional is called for.

Other than that, depending upon how close you are to this person, let them know that they can call you any hour of the day or night (but don’t be greatly surprised if they don’t.)

Also realize that self blame is the inevitable legacy that a successful suicide leaves for everyone who cared about them. It’s part of the package.

LuckyGuy's avatar

In all my years of service I can think of only 2 times when someone prevented a suicide. One time the young woman called a friend to say good bye. They spoke for a while and the second she hung up, her friend called the ambulance and the police. We arrived minutes after she had taken the pills and could save her.
The second time we did not know we saved the guy, in his mid-50’s. We were on a prostate cancer support group website and one guy really sounded down. We started to make jokes with him. Other guys started kidding around until it got late and we all went to bed. About 6 months later the showed up here in NY. He flew in from Florida He wanted to tell us how we had saved his life. That night he was sitting with the loaded gun thinking about where to do it to minimize the trauma for his family. We started joking with him – talking about pee pads, and wonkie winkies, and not trusting farts… 2nd grade bathroom humor nonsense. He started to laugh and cry… and he put the gun away. He said “Guys, you saved my life.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

Safie's avatar

Absolutely nothing, once a person loses all purpose to live their minds are made up no matter who or how anyone tries to save them.

Blackberry's avatar

Some already make up their minds, but some really aren’t aware how much people love them and need them and little nudge is all they need to stay here.

Dutchess_III's avatar

A friend of my husband’s committed suicide not long ago. Those of us who knew him are all left with guilt. You can’t help it.

talljasperman's avatar

Money when needed helped me.

Dutchess_III's avatar

You were going to commit suicide over money @talljasperman?

talljasperman's avatar

@Dutchess_lll Yes. The Dr. Put me on disability and now things are better. I’m moving to schizophrenia housing in 2 days.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Great that you are sorting yourself out but are you schizophrenic? Is there no other way out of the rut other than labeling yourself what you probably aren’t?

talljasperman's avatar

@ZEPHYRA I don’t know how to answer your question. It’s been 10 Years that the doctors have been forcing me to accept that I am I’ll and now you want be to buck the system again. The pills and cash help me to forget most of my troubles. Without them I would have to work double full time shifts at MCDONALD’S just to stay afloat. I’m moving to schizophrenia housing tomorrow. It’s a mircicle that I got in. With the money I save I can re take my high school classes again and take part time online classes in Athabasca university and get my degree in psychology.

talljasperman's avatar

And have enough money for enough food in the apartment that I would actually like to eat.

Wolf_girl100's avatar

My cousin saved someone from suicide by being his girlfriend.

yankeetooter's avatar

Being there for them when they need somebody not just when you have time for them

canidmajor's avatar

But, @yankeetooter, “Be there for them ” how? I appreciate the sentiment, but it is so nebulous. And by saying “not just when you have time for them” do you mean to suggest that someone (who?) ignore other life considerations?
Unless the suicidal person has made it very clear that they are suicidal, which few do, how does one allocate their time?
I think we all want to believe that we have a certain power over others’ decisions, but I think that may only be true in extreme cases.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I so agree @canidmajor. Some words just sound good, but the reality is a different thing. One Jelly here is fond of saying, “Just talk about it with so and so. Work it out!” That may work in some situations, with some people, in other situations it’s impossible.

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