Knowing a loved one is suicidal is scary — there’s no clear instruction manual for making it all better. It can put you under enormous pressure when the stakes are so high, and you might not know what to do or say.
But if there was one rule of thumb, it would be this: We have to listen.
So, we did. We asked people in our community who’ve felt suicidal what they needed most in their lowest moments. Everyone’s different, but these answers might give you insight into what someone who’s suicidal really needs.
If you or a loved one is feeling suicidal, you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. “Validation. People don’t get to the point of suicide because they are petty or selfish. It happens when you honestly cannot imagine a way out of what you are going through. Appealing to the benefit of those potentially left behind isn’t helpful because when I’m suicidal, I honestly believe those people will either not really care or will be better off. Simply trying to understand and acknowledging the feeling is so important. Then, and only then, can you talk about a way out, a light at the end of the tunnel, the value of living and how to get help.”
2. “I just need someone to be there, to listen, to not be judgmental. I feel that there are people out there who see suicide as a weakness. I believe it is just that someone has got to a point where they can’t see a future for themselves. In my experience, there have been times when I’ve been suicidal and someone just telling me they care and love me has helped. If someone tries to make me feel guilty for my feelings, that will just make things worse. I know what it’s like to love someone who has died by suicide, so I already know the effect it would have on others. I just need to know there are still people around who care about me and love me just the way I am.”
3. “Be there for me to ramble on to if I need to verbally vomit everything going on inside my head… or be there for me to sit quietly with while I work out my own emotions. Just be there for me. Don’t rush to any judgments concerning what I may or may not need or what you think I may need. Just be there for me.”
4. “Remind me I’m not a burden. Remind me how special I make your life by just being in it.”
5. “If I say I’m suicidal, take it seriously and don’t assume I want attention. You don’t know how far in the hole I am so don’t leave me in a room alone to wander with my thoughts, even if I request it. If you can’t be there physically and you’re unsure if anyone can, then just talk and listen over the phone. If anything else, encourage me to get outside and walk around and to focus on hobbies. Try to make that person feel accepted or welcome — and it’s OK to be direct.”
6. “Remind me of how strong I am. Remind me of who I am.”
7. “Let the professional take care of me. Pack some socks, underwear, sweat pants, shirts and sweatshirts. It gets cold in there. Make sure that bag of clothes goes in ambulance with me.”
8. “Hold me while I cry, cry with me, don’t tell me things aren’t that bad. Even though I may know it. Tell me I’m not the horrible person I feel I am, although I will never believe it. Maybe point out some of the good things I have accomplished, because I cannot for the life of me think of one!”
9. “Be physically present. That means coming over. Staying with me until either the urge passes, I have an appointment with a therapist or decide to go to a hospital. And if I do decide to go to a hospital, come with me. Don’t leave me alone during that process.”
10. “Remind me the hospital is a viable and safe option. It might seem extreme, but when you’re that far in the dark, the hospital is a really great place to fast-track the care you need.”
11. “Just having someone to talk it out with can be helpful. I have a friend who told me I always have options and choices, and it helped me realize I wasn’t helpless.”
12. “Keep in close touch, even if that means a text every few hours, even if I don’t answer back. Remind me there are professionals who can help guide me through this difficult time. Send me a crisis helpline number and remind me there is no shame in reaching out for help.”
13. “Distract me. Ask to get food or bring food to me. After asking me how I’m feeling, ask me a question about anything other than how I’m currently feeling to change the subject. Sometimes I just need my mind to wander somewhere else.”
14. “Please don’t tell me how selfish I’m being. In my mind I’m making things better for everyone else.”
15. “Be there and spend time with me. I don’t want them to preach why I need to be alive. Show me why. Actions always speak louder than words. My friends and family have shown me this.”
16. “Realize that this feeling isn’t me ‘fishing for compliments’ or ‘throwing my own pity party.’ This is a genuine feeling. Please just listen to what’s making me feel this way.”
17. “Don’t be as scared to use the ‘s-word’ as I am. If you ask me if I’m suicidal I’ll tell you, but I can’t bring myself to actually say it.”
18. “Don’t try to understand. Don’t try to fix my life situations or me. Just love me and listen to me. Just let me know you care.”
19. “Remind me I am a mountain and that all storms, even the most challenging, will come and go. The clouds will break and the sun will eventually return. We just have to white knuckle it sometimes and hold on till it passes.”
20. “Simple yes/no questions such as, ‘Are you safe?’ ‘Can I take you to the hospital?’ etc.”
21. “Keep checking in. I don’t want to feel like the needy one who has to keep asking people to hear me out.”
22. “Talk to me. Like really just have a normal conversation. ‘How is the weather? Guess who I saw at Walmart? I did my lawn work today!’ I don’t want a sermon. I know I have people and things to live for. I want normalcy, nothing exceptional.”
23. “Please don’t tell me I’m being selfish and judge me. I don’t want to hurt you, I just can’t handle that my head and heart don’t always work together.”
24. “Listen, validate and believe.”
*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity.
If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.