4. “Is there anything I can do?” (And then actually do it – and follow up with them to check in on their progress.)
Only offer them what you can. Don’t overstretch yourself to an unrealistic degree. In a panic to “fix” the situation, some people will overextend themselves and make a bunch of empty promises in an attempt to make the suicidal person feel better. But lip service and broken promises are far less helpful than small, genuine acts of love.
Offer Them a Hug
This sounds cheesy, but an extended hug (over 20 seconds) regularly causes people to burst into tears. That’s not only because they’re probably been deprived of physical touch, which is a basic human need for neurological regulation, but because it implicitly sends the message, “I care. I see you. You matter to me.”
“A hug a day keeps the demons at bay.”
Without words, you can drive this healing message home into the deepest layers of their brain and body with a long bear hug. The core healing in this whole interaction is just that – interaction. Human connection and touch are the best things you can offer the person.
Whether the person is a touchy hugger or not, pretty much everyone will be receptive to this moment of vulnerability. Frame it as a personal desire, rather than a pat-on-the-back consolation. “Can I give you a hug?” or “All I want to do right now is give you a hug. Can I?”
Use Humor, Wisely
When people are feeling suicidal, they’ve usually been stuck in their own heads and taking their thoughts and pain very seriously. Whether they know it or not, they’re desperate for a fresh angle on their situation. Part of the gift you can offer them is the levity you immediately have by being outside of their mental ruts.
This is only effective and healthy when done after hearing and empathizing with the person’s true feelings. It’s also best when done with love, rather than dutifully trying to lighten the mood. Another poor response people have due to emotional issues is to be the uplifting mascot, who immediately tries to avoid the situation by lightening the mood and being forcibly cheerful, or comedic. This just feels fake and is extremely unhelpful.
Humor shouldn’t be used as a tactic to leapfrog the person’s emotional reality. It should be a genuine afterthought that comes from the heart. If it feels right to do, helping the person get a few good laughs can help relieve a ton of pressure and lighten their load.
One of the more recent times a friend came to me to get support, this exact approach worked wonders.
I first sat in silence, heard him out, and empathized with everything he was going through. He was having serious health battles, felt socially isolated and like no one cared. He was dealing with more pain than he knew how to cope with. Given all the data, it made complete sense to feel that way. I related with my own experiences of sitting on the brink of suicide, gave him my love and my word that I’d do anything I could to help.
After all that, I started poking fun at some of his trains of thought and put on an exaggerated impersonation of the dark, negative inner dialogue they’d been listening to. Suddenly, he went from crying tears of pain to tears of laughter in a matter of seconds. He hadn’t felt that way in weeks.
When we finished the conversation, the issue didn’t suddenly resolve or end on a high note. But we had connected so thoroughly that I was able to make him feel seen, heard, loved and supported. I checked in with him every few days after that, make time to hang out, and that person is still here, grateful, and doing better than ever.