I'd love to redirect everyone in my blast radius who's ever mentioned suicide to a hotline, but somehow I think that's the first thing just about anyone says when someone mentions suicide... to the point when "get professional help" is synonymous with "I don't want to deal with this personally."

In a similar vein, do suicide hotlines actually work? I'm reading up on them right now, and found this alarming article, that basically says that sometimes the call centers screw up, but overall they work sort of well, and that lapses need to be fixed with better training. I can't find any specifics about what that training entails; I'd love to read about what those hotline volunteers actually say to the strangers who call in.

They appear (from the experience of friends who have brains such that they have had to frequently resort to them) to be a vast improvement over not having them. The volunteers are imperfect humans, but actually care about what they're doing, which seems to help.

5CronoDAS8yI once actually tried calling one of those hotlines to see what they were like; I waited on hold for a while and then gave up.

How would you talk a stranger off the ledge?

by MoreOn 1 min read23rd Jan 201297 comments


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.