When you’re trying to help someone, especially someone you know and love, you might feel overwhelmed, hesitant, or confused about how to best help. It can be beneficial to consider what to do … and what not to do when trying to help.
As part of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, this article is a sample from our Keys for Living book on Suicide Prevention (more information on that below). While the immediate application of these principles is for helping someone struggling with suicidal thoughts, these principles can be used for helping anyone facing life challenges.
“Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow.”
(Psalm 25:4 NLT)
NOTE: If you (or someone you know) are having suicidal thoughts and intend to harm yourself, call 911 immediately. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 for free, confidential services and support at 1-800-273-8255.
13 Dos and Don’ts of Helping Others
Don’t trivialize or dismiss talk of death. “Stop talking like that.”
Do be willing to listen. “I want to hear what is really going on in your heart and life.”
Don’t feel like you have to say something or have the right answer. “You just need to …”
Do be present with them, listen, and know that your presence can be a comfort. “You can talk if you’d like, or we can just sit here together for a while.”
Don’t minimize emotional pain. “It can’t be that bad.”
Do ask questions: “When did you first start feeling this way?”
Don’t ignore or dismiss feelings. “You shouldn’t feel that way.”
Do draw out feelings. “Tell me what you’re feeling.”
Don’t promise, “I will never mention this to anyone.”
Do explain, “Because I care, I can’t keep this a secret. I have to tell someone and find help.”
Don’t attempt to “cheer up” with comparisons. “Many others have it much worse than you.”
Do empathize with them, acknowledging their feelings. “It sounds like you’re feeling hopeless.”
Don’t offer quick, simple solutions. “Just put the past behind you.”
Do let them know you’ll help them find ongoing support (online resources, hotlines, a counselor, community support group, etc.). “You don’t have to go through this alone. I’m with you. Let’s find a counselor together.”
Don’t give false hope or assurances. “I’m sure everything will be fine soon.”
Do acknowledge the reality of the situation and assure them of your support. “I don’t know how long you’ll feel this way, but I’ll be with you.”
Don’t assume they are safe. “She’ll probably be fine by herself.”
Do remove all harmful objects or weapons, such as guns or pills, and provide helpful contact information for who to call in an emergency. “I want to make sure you’re safe.”
Don’t think the problem is simply a spiritual problem or sin issue. “If you just prayed more and trusted God more, you’d be fine.”
Do realize that there are many reasons (physical, mental, emotional, relational, etc.) why someone becomes depressed and/or suicidal. “I know this isn’t easy, but we can find answers together.”
Don’t presume that once someone decides to die by suicide – that there is nothing you can do to stop it. “They’ve already made up their mind.”
Do realize that suicide is preventable. The vast majority of those who get help recover from their suicidal feelings. “You always have hope. Help is available. People care about you, and I will help you walk through this trial.”
Don’t overextend yourself or offer to help in ways you cannot provide. “I’m the only one who can help them.”
Do recognize your limits and know when you need to point them to additional help or professional counseling. “There are many online resources, emergency hotlines, counselors, and caring people who can help my loved one and support me as well.”
Don’t forget to pray for them and with them, as they are comfortable doing so. “Would you mind if I prayed with you?”
Do lift them up before the Lord on a regular basis. “Lord, I know you love my friend and care about their pain. Please help them get through this time and give them hope.”
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,
who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope,
comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say.”
(2 Thessalonians 2:16–17 NLT)
More Helpful Resources for You
If you or a loved one struggle with suicidal thoughts, if you feel trapped in a storm and see no hope for a brighter tomorrow – know that God is extending you a lifeline of hope. He loves you. He cares about you. He wants to help you – and other people do too.
- True stories of people who found hope
- Risk factors & warning signs
- Common misconceptions & causes
- How to prepare for a crisis & make a safety plan
- How to build a support system
- How to replace negative thoughts with God’s truth
- How to manage emotions
- How to recover after an attempt
- How to find hope in God’s Word
- How to help others struggling with suicidal thoughts
- Hope for those grieving a loss
Get the help you need today – for yourself or a loved one.
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