He apparently disclaimed any suicidal intentions and deleted the post, but I'm sorry to say it later became clear that he soon did, in fact, kill himself.

I noticed a similarity with my friend's suicide -- first step: "I am contemplating suicide for unclear reasons", second step: "don't worry, everything is perfectly ok now, honestly", third step: funeral. (As opposed to a cry-for-attention suicide threat of another friend; first step: "I am going to kill myself because this happened to me, and I want everyone to know this"; second step: same as the first step, but the shocking value wears off; third step: "uhm, this was kind of stupid, let's change the topic".)

I don't want to generalize too much from 2 examples, but now it seems to me that the "everything is ok now" part is a huge warning, even if it's followed by some rationalization. Not sure why. Maybe it is a result of thinking: "I am so completely worthless, that I want all people to stop worrying about my coming death". Or maybe it is an overreaction to some last hope, and the suicide is an overreaction to when the last hope fails. Problem is that wishful thinking on our part wants to believe that everything is OK when the suicidal person says so, but rationally any sudden improvement should be treated with high suspicion.

Showing 3 of 4 replies (Click to show all)

Another angle-- being given advice that doesn't work can be really wearing.

If you're dealing with people who are apparently committed to lifting your mood, and your mood doesn't lift, now what?

What's more, they may well be talking as though if you were a normal person, their methods would work.

Note: I haven't been in this situation, I'm extrapolating from less drastic problems.

2MixedNuts8yThat's probably an accurate model, but ouch. What is one supposed to do when one is feeling absolutely awful, in need of help, and somewhat suicidal but one is aware one most likely won't go through with it? Even recognizing that's what's going on hurts - "How dare I compare my puny problem I won't even kill myself over to those of actual, important, real suicidal people? I'm just a whiny teenager, this is disgusting, I should kill mys- oh wait". (Obviously, I've been there.) And cries for help less extreme that suicide threats... don't actually get answered with much help, which may explain why such threats are so frequent.
4see8yConsider: It's much easier to commit suicide if the people around you aren't on guard against you committing suicide. "I am contemplating suicide for unclear reasons" was a gasp of the part of the person not yet committed to action of suicide; it puts people on guard, it gets them to help (interfere, from the view of the suicidal parts of the mind). If the person then decides to commit suicide, he's got to set the guardians at ease, get them to cease interfering. Telling the lie that "everything is okay now" makes it easier to succeed at suicide.

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.