Strategies for Helping a Suicidal Person

Sunday, 1230 hrs, dispatched to a home on Wickenden Street for an emotional female. Arrive on scene to find female crying on front stairs. She points to a door. It leads to a basement. At the bottom of the stairs, next to the washer and dryer is a boy hanging dead from the ceiling joist. He had only been dead for a short time.
Sunday, 1258 hrs., same day, just a few minutes later, dispatched to a home on Potters Avenue for an emotional, suicidal teenager.

Did I take the threat seriously?

You bet I did. And every one that followed.

It helped me to have a plan. I didn’t, so I developed one. This works for me:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
1 (800) 273-8255
Strategies for Helping a Suicidal Person
goodbyeWhen called for a suicidal person my main objective is to get them from wherever they are to where they need to be; a hospital with psychiatric facilities. The only training I had for dealing with suicidal patients came at the end of ropes, neckties, extension cords, bullets, bridges, opiates, razors and trains. And poison. Seeing the result of a person’s decision to take their own life prompted me to do anything and everything I could to learn how to be of help to somebody who is suicidal.

Seeing the bodies of people for whom help never came made the threat real, immediate and very much a possibility.
A person contemplating suicide needs professional help. By calling 911 they, or the concerned party who made the call expect that help to arrive. They do not expect an EMT or Paramedic to respond with little or no idea how best to help, or a medic whose own ideas about suicide cloud their ability to assess, treat and transport that suicidal person. They do not need a person who is there simply to get them from Point A. to Point B. They deserve somebody who cares to show up, somebody who understands the gravity of the situation, somebody with a plan.

I do not want anybody to die from their own hand, and the small amount of time that I have with a suicidal patient may be the time that mattered to the person thinking about doing it.

Here are a few ideas that I developed into a working plan after using internet search engines to find out all I could about saying the right things to suicidal persons:

Listen: Never act shocked or disapproving.

Comfort: “You are amazing, unique and awesome; I like you, a lot of people like you.”

¬ĚRespond: “Ending your pain and ending your life are very different courses of action.”


1. Are you Suicidal?
2. Do you have a method in mind?
3. Do you Have what you need to finish your plan?
4. Have you figured out when?

Connection Counts

Let the person know that you are deeply concerned. Do not be afraid to talk about suicide, let the person vent, shout, swear, cry, tell you their plan-anything but be alone. Find a way to convey this fact that may keep them alive; you have witnessed suicide, and felt the repercussions, and helped family and friends who have discovered the bodies, and that you, as the person behind the uniform still feel the effect of the devastation that each and every person who you have seen who committed suicide has left behind.

Let them know how you feel, even as a stranger to the people who gave up, and that you mourn the loss of their presence and the life that could have been lived had the proper help arrived in time.

Perhaps your voice will be the one that makes the difference, and turns the switch in their heads back to living. Our words and actions are incredibly powerful. We have the opportunity to be perceived as outsiders, and confidantes and maybe even a person who truly understands.




  • Jennifer says:

    Thank you for this powerful article. You have NO idea the affect it on me. I’m sharing with all my friends.

  • John says:

    Thank You. For being a TRUE life saver. (As defined by being concerned with saving the lives of some who may not even want the time) This article was practical and compassionate at the same time.
    Retired after 30+years in the biz, and all too often it seemed like would be rescuers couldn’t / wouldn’t attempt to get their heads/hearts around this issue. Now with two sons getting into fire/ems work…I’m highlighting significant articles and giving it to them for their operational / decisional database…this one definitely meets that criteria….thanks

  • Jim says:

    Excellent article and very appropriate for most situations.
    However there ARE situations where a “suicide” might make sense and EMS should not step in trying to ‘prevent’ it.

    There exist people who are physiologically at the end of their life, they know it and their family knows it. These people might not want to endure living a few additional weeks of months. These people might choose a short cut to the inevitable ending. The short cut might happen through a interventional act or it might be through the lack of intervention.

    EMS assessments need to routinely evaluate for DNRs, Living wills, Durable Power of Attorneys, etc. AND THEN FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS. This is not done often enough. Sometimes ‘letting them die’ is the appropriate treatment.

    To let arrogant personal opinions get between you and helping a ‘troubled teen’ gain access to the care they need is inappropriate and unprofessional.

    But, to continue (or force) resuscitation activities on someone who has expressed their desire to not receive this type of intervention, (sometimes just because you did not ask if they wanted treatment) is equally repulsive.

    “Suicide” comes in many forms and a quality EMS professional needs to understand their own biases related to ‘self caused death’ and not let these opinions or beliefs interfere with truly helping the patient that is in front of them.

    What constitutes suicide is not as cut and dried as it once was. As Physician Assisted Suicide enters the American healthcare scene, how it affects EMS procedures needs discussion also.

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