Counseling Center

Do's and Don'ts

Don’ts

  • Don't debate the person about the right to die. In your effort to be helpful, don't argue with a student to try to convince him or her that suicide is wrong, immoral, or illegal. Because suicidal people frequently feel out of control in many important areas of their lives, they will often vigorously defend their perceived right to remain in control of whether or not they will continue living. Once the student feels that he or she can retain this power, they will often be more open to considering other alternatives.
  • Don't make statements that blame the student or dismiss the pain he or she feels. For example, in an effort to "snap" the person out of being suicidal, you may be tempted to say things like "You're just feeling sorry for yourself" or "Other people have a lot more to worry about than you do." These kinds of statements are likely to cause the person to shut down and withdraw.

Do’s

  • Work to frame suicide as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Remind the person that crises and problems are almost always temporary. Problems are solved, feelings change, unexpected positive events occur.
  • Offer alternative solutions. The intense emotional pain they're feeling frequently blinds suicidal students to alternative solutions to their problems. Alternatives include going to counseling, taking medication to reduce the acute distress the person is experiencing, and engaging in spiritual/religious practices.
  • Explore and reinforce the person's reasons for living. Reasons for living can help sustain a person in pain. Victor Frankl, a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, noted that a person who has "a why" (a reason for his or her life) can live with almost any "how". Family ties, love of art or nature, religion, pets, and dreams for the future are just a few of the many aspects of life that provide meaning and gratification but which can be obscured by the emotional pain of a suicidal person.
Last Updated: 6/26/15