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Worried About Someone? – FAQ

Why does someone attempt suicide?

It might be helpful to understand the phrase “suicide attempt” is misleading. What we call a suicide attempt is often not an attempt to die, but an attempt to communicate and/or an attempt to solve a problem.

Suicide knows no boundaries – it doesn’t care if you’re a man or woman, straight or gay, Catholic or atheist, black or white, rich or poor, young or old. Suicidal ideation can affect anyone for any number of reasons. There is no one cause.

So why do people attempt suicide? Rarely is the answer “to die.” And while suicidal behavior is too complex for one simple answer, we do know that often people attempt suicide to end the tremendous amount of pain they are experiencing.

One thing remains certain: if you are feeling suicidal, you do not need to feel ashamed. You are not a failure, you are not weak, and you are not a burden. But you are experiencing tremendous pain, sometimes to the point of numbness or debilitation. And even with this tremendous pain, you’ve kept going. You are very brave and incredibly strong for doing so; and for choosing, at least for this moment, to keep living.


Will I give them the idea by asking about suicide?

No. You will not give them the idea. If they are feeling so bad that you’ve noticed a change in behavior or mood, they’ve probably already thought about suicide themselves. If anything, we know that asking someone if they are feeling suicidal can relieve the pressure they’re feeling for a time. And sometimes just a few moments of relief is all a person needs to be able to make a safer choice.


Will I offend them by asking if they’re suicidal?

We don’t know your friend or loved one, so we can’t answer that honestly. But what we do know is that asking a direct question about suicidal intent can lower a person’s anxiety level and deter suicidal behavior. It encourages them to vent some of the pent-up emotions they are feeling by talking openly about their problems.

And just remember, your friend or loved one can only be offended by the question if they are still alive.


Is there anything I shouldn’t say or do?

Yes. Don’t argue or debate about how they “should” feel. Don’t minimize what they are going through by say things like, “It’s not that bad” or “It will feel better tomorrow.” Don’t offer advice or what’s worked for you in the past. Don’t judge or blame them for how they are feeling. Don’t say things like, “Why are you telling me this?” or “How could you do this to me?” Avoid sentences like, “I don’t believe you’ll really kill yourself” or “You’ll never go through with it.” And finally, avoid saying things like, “Your life is so great, why would you feel like this?” or “What’s wrong with you? I think you’re really overreacting.”

Now, before you worry that you will accidentally say something like the above, there are two things to keep in mind:

First, if you goof up, fix it. Just tell your loved one that what you said came out wrong. Then tell them what you meant to say.

And second, the easiest way to avoid doing any of the above is to think about what would be most helpful to you if you’ve just called a friend and said, “I had a truly awful day today. I’m feeling really sad about it.”

Would you want your friend to say things like, “Me too! Let me tell you all about my day!” or “It’s really not that bad, I think you’re overreacting.”

Or would you rather your friend say, “Tell me what happened. I’m here for you.”


Is it really that big of a deal – do I have to be this serious about it?

Yes and yes. Any hints that a person is feeling suicidal should not be taken lightly. And do not believe the myth that people who talk about suicide won’t actually kill themselves. If someone is talking about suicide or displaying some of the warning signs listed above, they may be at risk.

Something to keep in mind is that more people die each year in the United States by suicide than by homicides or car accidents. Suicide is a serious public health concern that is everyone’s business.


Is suicide a selfish decision?

Absolutely not. When someone is feeling suicidal, they often think they are a burden on the people in their life. They sometimes think their friends and loved ones would be “better off without them.” And therefore, in a twist of logic, they incorrectly assume they would be taking better care of their friends and family if they were no longer alive.

If you’re reading this because you are worried someone in your life is suicidal, then you know none of that is true. But the suicidal person doesn’t know that because they are blinded by their pain. They are not being selfish, they are simply unable to see other choices.

Remember, a person’s choice to die by suicide is in response to him experiencing an intense amount of pain. He can’t see other choices and he’s convinced, incorrectly, that he is a burden to his friends and loved ones. He doesn’t understand if he chooses to end his pain by ending his life, the pain will just be beginning for the people he leaves behind.


Why can’t they just “fix it” and move on?

Stop for a moment and try to imagine how much pain a person must feel to decide to end their life. How overwhelming, all encompassing, and bleak the feelings they have must be to lead them to feel like dying is their only choice. Now consider for a moment if someone would willingly want to feel that way.

If it was as easy as just “fixing it,” don’t you think the person in pain would have done so already?

But it’s not that easy. A suicidal person is not choosing to feel the way they do – in fact, they probably feel quite powerless with their emotions. Please keep in mind the way they feel is not their fault. An outsider might look in and think, “I know exactly how they can make it better” or “If they just try ____ it will all be fine again,” but it’s never that simple. Accidentally implying or purposefully telling someone who is suicidal that there is a simple solution or that they should “snap out of it” could potentially isolate them further.

Sometimes people can feel exasperated, frustrated, mad, or at a complete loss when their loved one is suicidal. We want the suicidal person to feel magically better. And it’s upsetting and confusing when they don’t feel better, especially if we are trying as much as we can to help.

It’s normal for you to feel that way. So imagine how it would feel if someone said to you, “It’s not that big of deal that your closest friend is suicidal, you should just get over it.” You’d be a lot less likely to open up to that person again about your worries, right?

So be patient with your loved one, and be forgiving of yourself if you feel frustrated. And when you do feel upset or exasperated, or sick with worry, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Remember, our crisis lines are not only for people who are feeling suicidal. You can call us too.


Can they get better?

Yes. With a bit of help, time, and hope, people can recover from suicidal ideation.


Can I make them better?

The simple answer is no, you can’t make them better. That’s their job and we can’t take that away from them. But you can help them get better. They have to make their own progress on their own timetable. But you can listen, ask them how they are feeling, show them you care, and help empower them to choose to live.


Do you have any suggestions for further reading online or local resources?

Absolutely! There’s a tremendous amount of information available online regarding suicide awareness and prevention. In terms of local resources, it will depend a lot on where you live. But the suggestions below will help get you started:

Immediate Help:
Emergency Service Programs/Mobile Crisis Intervention Directory for Massachusetts

Cape and Islands Department of Mental Health (DMH)
24 hour mental health assessment and referral
800-322-1356
508-564-9690

Psychiatric Assessment Team (P.A.T.)
Cape Cod Healthcare
24 hr. mental health assessment and referral
800-513-4728

Other Samaritan Centers:
The Samaritans (based in the UK – where it all began!)
Samaritans of Boston
Samaritans of Fall River and New Bedford
Samaritans of Merrimack Valley
Samaritans of New Hampshire
Samaritans of New York
Samaritans of Rhode Island

Additional Local and Regional Resources:
Cape and Islands Suicide Prevention Coalition
Cape and Islands National Alliance on Mental Illness
Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention
Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health Suicide Prevention Program

Nationwide Resources:
American Association of Suicidology
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education

Be mindful when you are researching that there is a lot of misinformation online too. If you ever have any questions about anything you’ve read, we’re always here to help.


I’m feeling overwhelmed because I am so worried about my loved one – what should I do?

Worrying that you may lose someone you love to suicide can be overwhelming. It’s normal that you’re feeling that way. But you do not have to face this alone. Call our crisis lines. We’re here to listen.

Worried About Someone? – What do I do if they say they are suicidal?

Once you’ve asked your loved one if they are suicidal and have allowed them to share how they are feeling, there are still more questions you’ll need to ask. Not only are these questions helpful to keep your loved one talking, but they will help you assess the immediate risk of suicide:

  1. Have you thought about how you would do it?
  2. Do you have the means at hand (gun, pills, etc.) or are they somewhere nearby (in the garage, in the car, etc.)?
  3. Have you decided when you would do it?

If your loved one has a definite plan – if the means are easily available, if the method is a lethal one, and the time is set – the risk of suicide is very high. You must not underestimate the danger. Please call 911 or drive them to the emergency room. Do not attempt to help them by yourself, and do not leave your loved one alone.

If the risk is not as imminent, ask if they have talked to anyone else about how they are feeling. See if there is someone they trust – a therapist, clergy member, doctor – who they would talk to further. Ask if they are willing to call our crisis lines with you, just to talk more to someone else. Ask if they have ever felt like this before and if so, was there anything that helped. Ask them to talk about the other people in their life who care about them – cats and goldfish count too! If they struggle to think of anyone, let them know they can talk to you and that you care. Above all else, keep them talking about how they are feeling right now and see if they will at least consider finding further help.

Worried About Someone? – How do I ask someone if they are suicidal?

The most straightforward way to ask the question is to say, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

Remember, there is nothing wrong with saying the word “suicide.” You will not give the person you care about the idea by saying the word or by asking about it. But you might help relieve some of the pain they are feeling because someone has noticed how bad they are feeling.

We’d like you to try to feel comfortable using the word suicide. But if it’s easier for you to get a bit into the conversation before saying it, that’s okay too. The most important thing is that you ask “the question” in a way that feels genuine to you.

So what are some other questions you could ask? How about things like:

“Is it the pain so bad that you’re thinking about ending your life?”
“Do you want to die?”
“Do you want to live?”
“Do you go to sleep at night and hope you won’t wake up the next morning?”

Keep it simple, and don’t let your nervousness or uneasiness muddle the question. Just find the words that you feel comfortable saying, that come as naturally to you as possible, and then ask. But more importantly, listen openly and non-judgmentally to the answer.

Worried About Someone? – Some tips to keep in mind

Once you’ve established with your loved one that you are truly open to actively listening, it might be helpful to keep some of these tips in mind:

Acceptance: When actively listening, it’s important to accept the whole person. Ensure your loved one doesn’t feel you have lost respect for them because of something they may have revealed. Even if you’re scared about the thoughts and feelings they share, remember how much more frightened your loved one must be.

Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage the expression of your loved one’s concerns or help him to continue telling his story when he seems to have hit a snag. For example, “Tell me more about that…” or “Did something happen today to bring these feelings up?”

Avoid Negative Qualifiers: Be careful when asking questions that you do not pressure him into saying “no” when the answer may really be “yes.” For example, “Are you thinking of suicide?” is easier for him to respond honestly to than the question, “You’re not thinking of suicide, are you?”

Be Yourself: Don’t be so worried about saying the right thing that you aren’t yourself. You don’t have to find the perfect sentence, and there’s not one sentence that you can say that will magically make everything better (or worse). So relax, take a breath, and be open to however the conversation will go. And if you say something and it doesn’t come out quite how you wanted it to, let them know. It’s okay to stumble a bit through the conversation. You only need to let your care shine through.

Focus: Focus your attention fully on the conversation at hand. Put your tablet down, turn off the television, and silence your phone. If he is unburdening, let him talk without interruption. Let him know there is no rush and that he is your only priority at that moment.

Just Listen: Avoid the urge to problem-solve or offer advice when your loved one begins opening up to you. Doing so may dismiss their feelings or discourage them from sharing more. Instead let them share what’s going on, how they’re feeling, and how things got to the point they are right now. Don’t assume you understand everything (or have even heard the whole story) or that you have a quick fix to their problems.

Reflect Feelings: State back to your loved one the feelings you have heard him state, allude to, or express in some other way (such as in tone of voice, sighing, or crying). For example, “You sound so sad” or “Are you feeling overwhelmed by everything?”

Silence: This is a powerful tool. Don’t feel like you have to say something every time there is a pause. Silence gives both of you time to think and allows your loved one to take the initiative in the conversation (i.e. to continue to steer the conversation in the direction he needs it to go rather than where you think it should go).

Steer Toward the Pain: If your loved one has begun opening up to you, don’t make light of their feelings or the experiences they are having. Avoid making jokes or trying to cheer them up. Allow them to feel fully. Sometimes you have to provide an opening to get him to start talking. For example, “You seem depressed. What’s the matter?” or “How long have you been feeling like this?”

Validate Feelings: Let your loved one know that you accept that he feels the way he does. Tell him you’re proud of him for opening up to you and that you know it must have been hard to do so. It’s okay to say things like, “I know I haven’t gone through what you’re experiencing, but I care and I want to help.”

Worried About Someone? – How do I talk to someone who is suicidal?

Believe it or not, having a conversation with someone who is suicidal is not as scary as you might think. When you look at the conversation, what it really boils down to is simply one person caring for another person. That doesn’t sound so bad, right?

Talk to them. Don’t be afraid to ask directly if they are thinking about suicide. Talking about suicide will not put the idea into their mind. In fact, most people will feel relief that someone has finally noticed their pain.

And remember, for most people who think about suicide, it’s not because they want to die – it’s because they want the pain to end. And when people are in pain they sometimes can’t see all of the choices available. By listening, you may be able to help someone in pain explore safer choices.

Probably the most difficult part of this type of conversation – particularly if you’re talking with someone you care about – will be to avoid a natural tendency that many people have to fix things or offer solutions. So avoid saying phrases like, “It’s not that bad” or “Have you tried ____?” or “That happened to me before and this is what I did….”

Remember, the goal of your conversation is to give the suicidal person a place to share and speak openly. They can only do that if you create a safe, welcoming place where they don’t feel like their feelings are being minimized or misunderstood.

If you’ve identified that your loved one might be suicidal, you’ll want to find a place where you can sit and chat with a bit of privacy. Find the best words that feel right to you to start the conversation. For example, “I care about you and it’s felt like you’ve been sad lately” or “I know you might not want to share, but I’m hoping you can talk to me about what’s going on.”

[tips for talking to someone]

If you’ve noticed a friend or loved one acting differently, or if they have been displaying any of the warning signs above, or if you just have a gut feeling that something is wrong, then now is the perfect time to ask and actively listen using the tips above. People won’t always open up about how they are doing unless someone asks. So ask. And truly listen. You can do it. And if you are worried someone is in immediate danger of suiciding, get help and do not leave them alone.


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