to Answer Questions Teens Ask About Suicide
What if my friend refuses to talk with someone and says if I tell
anyone he’s thinking of suicide, he’ll kill himself for sure?
This is not an unusual response. It is a form of testing and can be
interpreted as a question. The suicidal person will be unsure of
anyone who wants to
help. Some will be more unsure than others. This response is from a person
who is not quick to trust because of previous hurts and betrayals by
others of his confidence. Still, what this person is checking out
about the friend
who wants to help is how much they are willing to fight to save their
life. If the friend agrees not to tell anyone, they will lose his
What needs to be said to the potentially suicidal person in this situation?
A good response to the threat is:
“Look, you let me know you were feeling suicidal. If you didn’t want
help, you would never have said anything to me, so I’m not
going to let it go. Come on. Both of us will go see someone.”
This kind of response lets the person know how serious we are and
how much we care. It brings them back in touch with that part
In most cases they will agree to see someone after hearing this.
If they still insist on not talking and take off, it is critical
who can get to that youngster be told immediately.
Kids need to know exactly who they can tell and in what situations.
When in school, there are the teachers, counselors, etc. When
out of school,
there are their own parents, police, and the phone operator
for the Suicide Prevention Center, etc. Make sure they know where
to go for
Schools can work out an arrangement with a 24-hour prevention
center so that when kids call and identify the school they
if necessary, notify an identified person in the school.
What do I do if I want to break up with a boyfriend but he says he’ll
kill himself if I do?
When this occurs, the suicidal person is often very angry but unable
to direct the anger appropriately. He/she is also devastated by
the “rejection.” In
most cases, the breakup brings to the surface feelings around a much
earlier rejection by a parent that the suicidal person is unable
to separate out
emotionally from the current situation, or is not consciously aware
that the tremendous hurt he/she feels now goes back to a time long
The friend who is breaking up with this person who is doing the threatening
will also experience a lot of anger for such a drastic retaliation
as well as fear that it may actually happen. The tendency is to act
on the anger
and say something like, “Go ahead,” or “That’s
your problem, not mine.” Sometimes the person reacts to the fear
and either becomes immobilized or gives in to promising not to tell.
About the only response in this situation is something like:
I know you’re really upset; so am I, but I can’t keep going
out with you. You make me really mad when you dump suicide on me, but you
are also making it clear that you really are hurt, too. Both you and I
need to go talk to someone. I don’t want you to hurt yourself, but
I can’t lie to you and say I want to keep going out with you, either.
If you don’t go with me to talk this out with someone, I’ll
have to tell someone, because I’m still your friend and I don’t
want you to hurt yourself.”
If they are still talking suicide after this, it is imperative that
someone is told. It’s helpful to let students know that if they
do this much, they have done as much as they can possibly do. Stress
the importance of
telling someone, as this will help relieve them of the horrendous burden
of guilt should the person kill him/herself. A promise to talk to someone
is not enough in this situation. They must talk with someone immediately.
Once contact is made with a professional, they can take over, and the
responsibility of the friend has ended. They were honest and did all
they could possibly
What do I do when no one believes me or does anything if I tell
them about a friend I think is thinking about suicide?
The only thing to do when an adult, whether a parent or
counselor, refuses to believe someone is contemplating suicide
is to immediately go to someone
else who will listen and do something.
What if the counselor my friend is seeing isn’t helping?
Sometimes counselors and therapists are thought to be miracle workers,
and clients are said to be resistant or at fault if they are
not making progress. There is no therapist/counselor who can work
well with everyone.
Personality clashes happen; backgrounds get in the way, and
some problems are simply outside of the therapist’s skill and knowledge.
Yes, it is true that sometimes clients unknowingly sabotage
counseling, but it is also true that even the best therapist
is unable to
help some people who would do better with another counselor.
If counseling doesn’t seem to be helping, first let the counselor
know. A good counselor will agree and suggest taking another direction
for a period of time and if that doesn’t help, recommend another
counselor. A good counselor will also recognize the need for an immediate
referral if it is felt that continuing a while longer will not be helpful.
The counselor who does not do this, but quickly says the problem is
with the client, is likely not to be the therapist to continue to see.
Remember, the suicidal person often does not want to die, they
just want the hurt to end.
I would feel dumb asking a friend if they are suicidal. What
if they weren’t?
Won’t they think I’m crazy?
Yes they may call you crazy, but not really think you’re crazy.
By asking, you are showing how much you care, how much you pay attention
them, and how much courage you have to risk being wrong rather that
assume they can handle things.
What if someone wants to die because things are bad and
to change – shouldn’t they have the right
Ultimately, the person does make the final choice as
to whether they will live or end their life. It is
critical to remember,
who is certain that suicide is the only way usually
does not tell anyone or leave clues. Those who leave clues
life are crying out for help. If the response to their
cry is “That’s
your choice,” it may be interpreted as a rejection,
and as a decision on your part not to get involved
because you think they are
not worth saving.
Remember, the suicidal person often does not want to
die; they just want the hurt to end and know of no
other way or have not had the experience
of someone being there for them when they need it most.
How do I get my friend to talk when he/she
says it doesn’t help
Sometimes people find it difficult to talk because
they are confused and don’t know what they
are thinking. Sometimes they are scared that they
will say something to upset the listener. There may
be a fear
that as they talk, they may not like what they hear
Silence is a difficult situation to deal with
because the silent person is in control.
It leaves the listener
anxious about what to say or do. It helps in this
situation to let the person know
their silence probably has protected them before
from people who were insensitive, mean, critical,
what they had
or not serious enough to get so uptight over. If
you can let the person know you understand this
you’re not one of these people
and ask them who hurt them so badly that they feel like suicide, they are
likely to open up. If this doesn’t help,
and they continue their silence, get help.
Why should I call a suicide prevention center?
What can they do over the phone?
The counselors at these centers are trained to
talk with people in crisis. They generally
know what to
to say it,
and when. They can also
call others to come to the aid of a person
in need, or if you are calling about a friend,
It needs to be made clear, however, that
in some centers the philosophy is that a
person has a
right to choose
live or die.
This attitude is not one that I personally
support because psychologically, the person
in need is desperately hoping someone will
them from ending their life. To say to the
person that it
to ignore their cry
for help and not understand the psychological
dynamics. Ultimately, it can become the reason
attempt and death. We
What about someone who draws pictures of
a body hanging?
Remember that any reference to dying, verbal
or written, can be a clue that the person
indicate suicide, but this can’t be determined
until the person is asked about suicide. Drawings
should be taken seriously.
I know someone who jokes about it. What
do I do?
Suicide is no joke. Even people who
joke about it are serious. The joking
knows of no other way
to communicate. These people often
joke about everything that is serious
Any reference to dying, verbal or written, can be a clue that a person
This girl I know never
does anything she threatens
to do when she’s
mad. How do I know if she’ll do something dumb one of these times?
I get tired of her.
This kind of person makes us
angry after awhile. We
tend not to listen to them,
or even want to spend time
with them. This is a normal
The anger comes from our own fear that the one time we don’t take
the person seriously, they’ll do something drastic. That’s
a lot of pressure and makes us feel like we can’t win.
The fact is that each threat must be taken seriously because the risk
is high if it is ignored. It helps to sometimes say to this person,
upset me when you keep threatening to kill yourself. I know you’re
mad, but why would you want to give the person you’re mad at the
satisfaction of saying you’re crazy because of your suicide threats?
It really doesn’t help, and killing yourself is not likely to change
much of anything. Let’s go talk to someone who can help straighten
This may or may not help. The threat still needs to be taken seriously.
If you don’t feel comfortable dealing with the person, then tell
someone else who can get to them.
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