Helping Prevent Suicide

Helping Prevent Suicide

You may be aware that the suicide rate is currently higher than the homicide rate in this country. I am aware that I have written about the increase in depression. Now this.

There is a very high suicide rate amongst veterans and teenagers, two very vulnerable groups. One of the key feelings reported by people who have suicidal thoughts is loneliness. Feeling isolated, having no one to talk to, having no one to turn to for help, is awful. Sometimes we do not recognize this feeling in the person around us, and sometimes we do not know what to say or do.

It is not uncommon for a depressed or lonely person to not identify themselves. They can be embarrassed or awkward. It is often difficult to admit needing help.

Do not ever take a person’s disclosure of feeling suicidal lightly. We are not able to decide the seriousness of the thought or feeling. If a person expresses they are feeling suicidal, encourage them to talk to a professional. Always give them the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-275-8255) where well-trained people are available to talk to 24 hours a day. It is a wise number to always have on hand.

If the individual is unwilling to seek help, listen to them, if they will disclose anything. Say little initially. Let them talk. Do not criticize. It is an important step to be able to share thoughts and feelings. Let it be. When they are done, respond. Begin by telling them how important they are to you. Share your appreciation of listening to their story. Applaud their courage in telling you. Let them know that you care and are there for them. Tell them how sad it would be if they died. Encourage them to talk to someone professionally trained to understand and to help. Help them find a therapist if they are willing to do so.

A professional hopefully will listen and offer feedback. It is wise to have the person write and sign a suicide contract where they agree to not kill themselves for a designated period of time. I have had clients who have filled out two in a row as it took some time to remove suicidal ideation as a way of dealing with depression in their lives.

After a conversation with a suicidal person, reach out again. Call them. Send a card or a message sharing their value to you. These are valuable ways of countering feelings of aloneness and isolation in a person’s life. If we think to initiate sharing our concern about them, that means a lot to a person.

We want to be cared about. We want to be listened to. We want people in our lives. Hopefully, we want to live.

Author’s note: This article appeared a year ago. I am repeating it because the teenage suicide rate and suicidal ideation is even greater now for children. 60 Minutes did a segment on it Sunday, May 8.

Dr. Natalie Gelman is an Alameda-based therapist. Submit questions to or through her website,