How to Help Someone Who is Suicidal

"Ask a question. Save a life."

Paul Quinnette

Perhaps you have come to this page because you are concerned about the safety of someone you know who may be suicidal. If you are noticing the warning signs of suicide in someone you care about, you may be wondering how you can better understand them, and what could be your next steps. 

Perhaps you have come to this page because you are concerned about the safety of someone you know who may be suicidal. If you are noticing the warning signs of suicide in someone you care about, you may be wondering how you can better understand them, and what could be your next steps. 

Inside the Mind of Someone with Suicidal Pain

People who become suicidal are usually experiencing two things. First, they’re experiencing an intense level of mental and emotional pain, which suicide-prevention researcher Edward Schneidman named “psychache.” Second, they are also very likely to feel a profound sense of hopelessness, fearing things will never improve; that they will live with this agony forever.

This combination of intense pain and feelings of hopelessness produces suicidal thoughts, also known as suicidal ideation. The person you are reaching out to might be thinking, “I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up,” or “People would be better off without me.” These thoughts may come and go. They may be mild or severe. In the latter case, the person may have made a plan to take their life. 

Steps to Take as an Ally

Here are some clear steps you can take as an ally to keep your friend or loved one safe.

Step 1: Ask the Person if They are Feeling Suicidal
Bringing up the subject of suicide can be awkward. But if someone is in a dire situation, taking the time to reach out can make a tremendous difference.

Contrary to popular belief, talking about suicide will not reinforce, nor put the idea of suicide, into somebody’s head. Instead, simply bringing up the subject of suicide and talking about it openly with the person can prevent their suicide. This is because many people who have suicidal ideation suffer in silence, feeling isolated and alienated from others. Because they are not openly sharing their pain, their inner agony may be invisible to others. The fact that you are reaching out to them shows them that someone cares and that they are not alone. 

If you feel too uncomfortable asking your friend or loved one about their suicidal feelings, consider reaching out to someone close to them who might be able to approach them. Other options are to speak to someone trained in suicide prevention by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at (1-800-273-8255); your local mental health crisis hotline; or your therapist, if you have one.

When you do approach someone you are concerned about, it is usually best to introduce the question directly, in a straightforward and calm manner. Here are some examples of what you might say:

  •  “It seems as if you have been really struggling lately, and you have shared that you feel hopeless. I’m wondering if you have been thinking about suicide.“


  •  “I’ve noticed you have been having a difficult time, and I am worried about you. Are you thinking of harming yourself?”

Then listen to their response. If the individual says yes, they are thinking of suicide, it’s a good idea to respond in a way that conveys that you welcome disclosure of their suicidal thoughts and that you can handle it. For example, you can say: “I’m sorry you are in so much pain. I’m glad you have told me that you are thinking of suicide. I care about you and I want you to stay safe.”

Alert: At this point, if the person tells you that not only are they are suicidal, but they also have a plan to kill themselves and are going to take action soon, you should immediately proceed to Step 3 and work to connect them to resources—such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  or a local crisis hotline.

If the individual relays that they are not thinking of harming themselves, you can always let them know that you are there to talk if they ever need to. 

Step 2: Establish a Connection

If the person you are concerned about opens up and tells you that they are suicidal, the next step is to establish rapport with them so they will trust you when you suggest ways to get help. The primary ways to accomplish this are through:

  • listening to what they have to say without judgment.
  • reflecting back their thoughts and feelings.
  • reassuring them that they can feel better and that help is available. 

What I encourage you to do:

  • Show empathy and interest.
    You might say: “What is happening in your life that has caused you to feel this way?” or “Your situation seems very distressing.”

  • Let the person do most of the talking.

  • Show that you are there as a resource.
    You might say: “Is there anything I can do to help?”

  • Listen attentively while the person speaks, paraphrasing and reflecting back what they share.

  • State that there are alternatives to suicide.
    “Although you may feel that suicide is the only way to end your pain, there are other other things you can do reduce the distress you are feeling.”

Step 3: Reduce Access to Means of Self-Harm

In your quest to keep the person safe, it is helpful to remove any means that the person can use to harm themselves. This includes guns, razors, scissors, knives, needles, ropes, prescription or recreational drugs, over-the-counter meds, alcohol, household chemicals, or cleaners. This is because the urge to die by suicide can come on very suddenly and can cause someone to act on this urge very quickly. 

Additionally, we know that the time before the first thought of suicide and an attempt can be remarkably as short as ten minutes. Thus, surviving a suicidal crisis often means waiting until the urge passes. If the person you are concerned about does not have access to the means of harming themselves, they will be more likely to survive a momentary impulse. 

It is especially important to remove any guns the person has access to. This is because a gun can quickly and easily be used to make a suicide attempt, and the inflicted injury is almost always fatal. Thus, if the person you are worried about has access to a gun, you should encourage them to give it to a friend or lock it in a gun case.

Step 4: Hold a Field of Hope

Because hopelessness is a primary driver of suicidal thinking, you will want to hold a “field of hope” for your friend’s recovery. This means stating your belief that they can get better, even if they insist there is no way out. Assure the person that, although it may not feel like it, both severe depression and suicidal feelings are temporary and they are treatable conditions. Robert Littman, a founder of the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center, explained this idea when he shared how the Center offers hope to suicidal callers:

”Psychological support is transmitted by a firm and hopeful attitude. We convey the impression that the problem which seems to the patient to be overwhelming ... is commonplace and quite familiar to us, and we have seen many people make a complete recovery. Hope is a commodity of which we have plenty, and we dispense it freely.”

You can convey this hopeful attitude by saying something like: 

“I know right now you feel like things will never get better. But I want to let you know that this is your suicidal brain talking. It is not a reflection of the reality of your situation. Things may be tough right now, but I sincerely believe that you are going to get through this difficult period.”

You may not get much of a response when you say this, but as someone who has been suicidal, I can tell you that it is helpful to hear other people provide encouragement, even if you are not ready to believe it. 

Step 5: Connect the Person to Resources

The final step in helping a person who is suicidal is to connect them to resources that will keep them safe and help them resolve whatever is causing their pain. 

  • Connect them to mental health resources. If they are not currently working with a mental health professional, they can call their local crisis center and ask for a referral to mental health agencies in their area. You can learn about ways of finding  mental health resources by visiting How to Connect to Mental Health Counseling.

  • You should also encourage them to tell family and friends about their crisis, so those people can also act as allies and help them connect to resources.

  • If the person reveals that they have a plan to harm themselves AND are thinking of acting soon, urge the person to call their local Crisis Line, or 1-800-SUICIDE/ (800) 784-2433 or the Crisis Text Line (741741).  

Getting More Support and Staying Connected

If the person you are concerned about is reluctant to reduce their access to means of self- harm or to reach out for help, call call a local crisis line, a local therapist or psychiatrist, or the National Suicide Prevention Helpline for advice about how to proceed. 

If you have an ongoing relationship with this person such as being a relative or close friend, you can also assume the role of helper and advocate during the time that the suicidal person is working to come out of their crisis. This might include spending time with them, taking them to appointments, helping them with activities of daily living, or just being a general sounding board. The important thing is that you stay connected with your friend or loved one and are a part of their “support team” until their crisis passes.