Suicide Prevention: What not to say to someone feeling suicidal

Suicide Prevention: What not to say to someone feeling suicidal
"Trigger Warning"
May contain explicit details of suicide that may not be advisable for everyone to read. Written with the purpose to raise awareness about suicide. 

Suicide can be prevented. Research, evidence, data, all show that death by suicide is preventable. Yet, there are over 800,000 deaths by suicide worldwide every year. Just like the COVID-19 pandemic, suicide doesn’t seem to discriminate. Breaking down the 800,000 will show us that there are people belonging to rich countries as well as poor, from adolescents to older generations, highly educated to illiterates, men, women, LGBT and all across race, culture, ethnicity… the only silver lining being that suicide can be prevented.

On the other hand though, despite death by suicide being preventable, it is the second leading cause of death among young people (10-24-year-olds). A 2008-data shows that the number of deaths by suicide in young people was more than the sum of death by homicide and war combined. 

So, why are we not able to save the younger people if suicide can be prevented?

Another aspect we need to get our head around is for every death by suicide there are an estimated 20 suicide attempts, and for every suicide attempts, there are likely to be 20 more suicidal thoughts. 

Thus, to prevent death by suicide we must understand the suicidal thoughts that precede the suicide attempts.

What NOT to say to people with suicidal ideations

So, in this post let us learn what NOT to say to people with suicidal ideations. 

  1. Listen to me”… DO NOT ASK THEM TO LISTEN TO YOU. This is not about you, it is about THEM. Many times the people with suicidal thoughts are actually wanting to be heard not TALKED TO. So, instead of asking them to listen to your unsolicited advice, lend them your ears and listen. Listen to them without passing on your valuable judgment, listen to them with empathy, listen to them with your heart. 
  1. “I can completely understand what you are feeling” NO, you can’t. And if you could, you’d also be in the same position they are in and someone else would be saying this to you. We will never be able to “completely” understand what they are going through or what is aiding their suicidal thoughts. So, when you say you understand them completely, you are lying and also you are impeding an open conversation. Instead, you can ask them to tell you what they are going through and that you will “try to understand” their situation. This is an honest approach and also this can open a conversation instead of stopping it. 
  1. “Look at the brighter side” If they could, they would. It is because they are not able to see the “brighter side” that they are feeling suicidal. Your forcing them to look at the brighter side might cause more disappointment in them as that is the one thing they have been failing to do so. Rather be objective and work out together on what could be called “brighter side”.
  1. “Let me help you” When you say “Let me help you”, once again the whole conversation becomes centered around you. Instead, leave the ball in their court. Better than that would be to ask them what you could do to help them. “What can I do to help you?” is better than straight out offer a helping hand. This way you are giving them a choice, and an upper hand. Assuring them that they have a choice in the matter could open up the conversation that could have ended up in a wall. 
  1. “You call that a problem…” You may feel that the problem they are talking about is too trivial and you may be right. But this is NOT ABOUT YOU. If the person feeling suicidal confesses to you about a problem you feel is not too big, do not try to top it with world hunger, war on terrorism or whatever it is you feel is the big problem. Listen to their problem, their concern, no matter how trifle it may sound to you. 
  1. Think about your parents / loved ones” In most cases, if not all, the people with suicidal thoughts have only been thinking about their loved ones / parents. Their thoughts may be distorted but they are definitely thinking about them: “My wife and kids are better off without me.” “I am a burden to my parents.” 
  1. “Get over it / Snap out of it” They are not in this situation because they chose to be in it so asking them to get over it or to snap out of it will make them feel even more helpless than they already are. Also, the more they feel helpless the more they may start blaming themselves. This self-blaming thoughts could make matters worse for them. 
  1. “You are doing all this to get attention” This has become a cliche phrase that gets thrown around a lot because it’s a cliche. So, be wise and refrain yourself from uttering this nonsense to someone who is going through enough enormous pain and confusion that is making them feel suicidal. What is wrong is your interpretation of someone else’s behavior. Understand what you consider “trying to get attention” is actually their “crying to get help”. 


We cannot emphasize enough about the preventability of death by suicide. We are all doing everything we can to prevent contracting the coronavirus and most of us are succeeding. The same can be said about suicides. If we all try and work on the preventive measures, be a bit more empathetic and attentive, lend our ears and hearts to the ones seeking help, we can save a life. If all we can do in life is to prevent one death by suicide, we will have two lives to be proud of – one you live and the one you helped live. 

Questions you can ask someone who could be feeling suicidal

While there are a lot of things you should not be saying to people having suicidal thoughts, here are three questions you can ask someone who you think could be feeling suicidal. Because sometimes all it takes is the right question at the right time. 

ONE: Where do you hurt? 

Dr. Edwin Shneidman, the founder of the American Association of Suicidology, mandatorily uses these questions to begin a conversation with a suicidal patient. He believes that people go through intense and immense pain that he has termed “psychache” and it is to relieve this psychological pain that people often think of killing themselves. When they are asked this question, they may share their story of hurt and despair. 

TWO: How may I help you? 

This is a follow up question to the above. Instead of offering help straightaway, you are asking them to show you the way. So, let us be open minded and resist giving unsolicited advice.

THREE: Have you thought of killing yourself? 

Many of us fear asking such a question could implant the idea of suicide. However, the fear is absolutely unfounded and instead this question also opens up a conversation on suicide. Also, if someone is having suicidal thoughts, this question could mean that the person asking actually understands what they are going through. If the person says they are having suicidal thoughts, you have to seek professional help. Once you know about their suicidal ideation, a friendly shoulder may not be enough. THEY NEED PROFESSIONAL HELP. You can also call the local helpline if they are not ready to make the call. They have trained professionals who can guide you further and help you help your loved one from a fatal consequence.


Let’s educate ourselves in suicide prevention strategies and equip ourselves with the readily available free resources on suicide, and be a little kind to the stranger or a friend whose life we may be able to save. 

Suicide is preventable. You can prevent one death by suicide. I can prevent one death by suicide. Let us prevent one death and save one life at a time. Stay safe, stay alert, save a life!

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