Strange this should come up now. Two days ago my best friend attempted "suicide". (I put it in quotes because it was a fairly obvious cry-for-help, not an actual I-wanted-to-be-dead-but-screwed-up). I've spent the whole weekend with fallout and mitigation (visiting in the hospital, cleaning up his apartment for when he's released, contact his mother & boss, etc).

I'm glad it was only a cry-for-help, because I find it difficult to argue with someone who has decided they are better off dead. I figure they are probably a better judge of that than I am. I was suicidal once myself. I'm glad I didn't follow through, my life is good now. But I have the benefit of hindsight. Back when I was suicidal, I really would have been better off dead, my life experience was one of constant negative utility. Had my life NOT improved and I'd gone the past 12 years continuing to experience that, I'd have endured tons of pain for no good reason. I hate telling people that their life will get better, and the person they'll be 10 years from now will be very happy they didn't kill themselves, because I don't know that will be true.

That being said, it's much harder to kill yourself when your friends/family are around. Don't let them be alone, as much as is feasible. And yes, that means physically present. Internet is no substitute at all, and phone is a VERY weak substitute.

As for a stranger? I don't think it can be done, unless they already WANT to be talked down (in which case it was a cry for help anyway). Grab them and physically keep them away from the ledge until a loved one or paramedic can come collect them.

I'm glad it was only a cry-for-help, because I find it difficult to argue with someone who has decided they are better off dead. I figure they are probably a better judge of that than I am. I was suicidal once myself. I'm glad I didn't follow through, my life is good now. But I have the benefit of hindsight. Back when I was suicidal, I really would have been better off dead, my life experience was one of constant negative utility. Had my life NOT improved and I'd gone the past 12 years continuing to experience that, I'd have endured tons of pain for no go

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How would you talk a stranger off the ledge?

by MoreOn 1 min read23rd Jan 201297 comments

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Last month, two people far at the periphery of my social circles have threatened suicide. Seems like a sign for me to learn some ledge-fu.

I reviewed the stuff I'd learned back in high school ("Listen." "Be supportive." "Don't argue." "Etc etc etc.") I have trouble believing that this would work outside of movieland, especially on strangers. More so, in person I'm an awkward, fidgeting introvert---the impact of everything I say is thus diminished, and I sound very insincere or clinical, like I'm following a bad movie script, when I say anything like, "You are not alone in this. I’m here for you." or "How can I best support you right now?" I doubt that this would sound any better in writing.

I suppose I could split my question into two related ones: what would you say to a person threatening to commit suicide, 1. in person, and 2. in an email?

I'm looking for out-of-the-box ideas that don't rely on charisma or compassion shining through. Personally, if I ever need to talk myself out of suicidal thoughts, I apply the "bum comparison principle": if my life is so crummy that I'm willing to commit suicide, then I should be willing to just walk out on everything I value and drift off in a random direction, survive by dine-and-dashing out of cheap restaurants and wash dishes if I get caught, maybe take odd jobs or hitchhike or gather roots and berries or blog from public libraries. I don't see this possibility in a negative light, and yet I still haven't done it. To me, it means that however bad my life may seem, I'm still too attached to it to walk out; therefore, suicide isn't on the menu.

People have different reasons to want suicide, and I understand that what works for me with my first world problems probably won't work for a person who is in too much physical pain from an incurable disease. To the best of my knowledge, the two people I mentioned earlier are both unskilled laborers who had lost their jobs, one of them so long ago that he's no longer eligible for unemployment benefits. I don't think I'll meet these particular people again, but I'd appreciate everyone's thoughts on what I could've said if my brain hadn't frozen.

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