National Crisis Intervention Training Institute, Inc.

Top 10 Things to NEVER Say to a Suicidal Person

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10: "Just snap out of it! Pick yourself up and go on! If I were you, I'd just forget about it."

Try this:  Stand up.  Bend over.  Grab your boot or shoe tops.  Now pick yourself up three feet off the floor, and carry yourself out of the room.  What?  Can't do it?  Can't defy gravity?  


Well, neither can a clinically depressed person whose problems outweigh them by a ton.  Also, "forget about it" may foster more secrecy and shame, thus perpetuating an abusive or unbearably painful situation. 

9. "You shouldn't feel like that! Trust me. You'll feel better tomorrow."

One of the most precious gifts we can give to a person in a crisis is "permission to feel."  Don't rob the suffering person  of that gift.  Oh, and by the way:  when things DON'T feel better or get better tomorrow, you'll have lost credibility with the suffering person in crisis.


8. "Is that all that's bothering you? That's nothing! Lots of people have much worse problems than you do."

Oh, great.  Make their crisis seem trivial.  It may not seem big to you, but one person's molehill is another person's mountain...especially when the other person is in a state of crisis.  

7. "I hope you're not thinking of doing something stupid like hurting yourself."

NOTE:  This is VERY DIFFERENT from asking, "Have you been thinking about suicide?"  No one likes to feel stupid.  This type of statement will make the suffering person feel hesitant to share their thoughts and feelings.  To stunt their willingness to discuss their feelings and problems greatly magnifies the odds that they will choose suicide as THE solution to their problems.

6. "Don't say that! I'm sure your parents love you very much."


Make sure you have your facts straight before saying something like this.  Sometimes, we don't know what really goes on behind closed doors at home.  And, besides, love is possibly not being expressed in a way that is meaningful or helpful to the person in crisis.  And, "Don't say that!" isn't the best way to get a person to talk to you.

5. "If I were you, I'd _____."

First of all, you're not.  Secondly, you don't have all the facts.  The person in crisis knows far more than you do about his or her situation.

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4. "If you are wanting to get attention, you're certainly going about it the wrong (or right) way."

To assume that a "Cry for help" is merely an attention-attracting tactic can be a deadly mistake.  Suicidal people are often angry at themselves, and others.  Depression itself, is often described as "anger turned inward."

3. "You ought to be able to think of a better way to deal with this than suicide. Why haven't you tried _______?"

You might as well just go and hang a "I'm a Dummy" sign around the person's neck, and get it over with.  "Ought" needs to be thrown in the dumpster, along with "Should" and "Why."   "Ought" and "Should" makes us feel stupid.  "Why" often makes us feel both stupid, and accused.

2. "If you really want to slash your wrists, and do it right, you should do it vertically, not horizontally, like this."

I almost can't believe that some people actually say idiotic stuff like this to suicidal people...but they do.  Their attempt at shock value is likely to turn into a "how to" lesson.


AND FINALLY, THE #1 Thing to NEVER SAY to say to a Suicidal Person:

1. "Cheer up! You have your whole life ahead of you!"

If they are in misery, feel endlessly depressed, or are being chronically abused or exploited, you've just told them that they have a life sentence of pain to look forward to...with no relief in the foreseeable future .  They are likely to want to parole themselves early, via suicide.

Top 10 things to never say to a surviving parent

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10. "Oh, really? How terrible! I'm so sorry to hear that. How did he die?"

At the crucial juncture of your first notification it's not important that you know the gory details.  What IS important that the Surviving Parent knows that you are focused on his or her needs...not "inquiring minds' need to know."

9. "At least he didn't suffer. Be grateful for that. You're blessed that he went suddenly."

This is so wrong on so many levels.  Catastrophic, sudden losses can be even more immediately impacting than chronic losses.  Redirecting to someone else's tragedy can give the impression that you're minimizing the Surviving Parent's loss.  You don't have all the information on how long, or how severely, the Victim suffered...or how long the Surviving Parent had been "waiting for the other shoe to drop" (in cases of suicide and accidental overdose, for example).

8. "I know how you feel. I lost my mother to cancer last year."

While not wanting to minimize any person's loss of a loved one:  no two people suffer the same.  Many dynamics of familial relationships (co-factors and co-morbidity factors) affect the type, magnitude, severity, and longevity of the grieving / mourning process.

7. "It's been ___ years. It's time you got over it and got on with your life."

Death of a child is something a Surviving Parent never "gets over."  Sanctioning, estimating, and/or expecting time lines for recovery is inappropriate and unrealistic.  Remember, some people remain "outside their grief" for years, prior to working through, or even beginning the grieving, mourning, and healing process.

6. "At least you have other children. You're lucky. Some people don't, you know. Concentrate on the living."

Regardless of whether or not a Surviving Parent has other children, the death of their child creates an ever-empty, unfillable hold in their heart and their life.  The Surviving Parent's responses to their child's death can also pathologically affect their own life, and their relationships with their surviving children.  This often happens when "Complicated Grief" occurs. 

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5. "Don't feel guilty and blame yourself. It wasn't your fault."

While "guilt" is something we feel, and "blame" is something we do, these terms are often interchangeable in the minds and hearts of Surviving Parents.  They must be addressed.  Telling the Surviving Parent to NOT feel something they are feeling, or to encourage them to not take responsibility for something they feel guilty about, invalidates their feelings, impedes their self-perceived entitlement to their own feelings, and inhibits their healing.

4. "Don't feel that way; Don't say that. You were the perfect parent!"

Again, WRONG ON SO MANY LEVELS!  This type of statement takes away their "right to feel" and to communicate their thoughts, feelings, fears, guilt, and remorse.  They were NOT the "perfect parent," even though they may have been an excellent parent.  They will naturally have regrets.  It is natural to feel this way, not matter how good a parent they were.  They will always be haunted by things that they could have or should have done before their child died.  Within this emotional pit swims the emotional predators of "Should have," "Could have," "What if," and "If I'd only."

3. "Time heals all wounds. It will get better over time."

Over time, pain may diminish, or be deadened or dulled (by self medication), but that is not the same as wounds being totally healed.  Emotional, psychological, and spiritual healing leaves scar tissue....just like physical healing often does.  Tragic loss of this kind may be integrated into the Surviving Parent's life, but it is something that he/she will never "get over."

2. "Was he/she a Christian? Good. Then at least you know he's in a better place."

While on the surface, and in certain circumstances, this may seem to be the appropriate thing to say, it is terribly dangerous ground.  While it may be true, and a source of comfort to Christian parents, this is a private train of thought and prayer that they must initiate, not you.  Parents who immediately respond with a hopeful exclamation that their child was a Christian, might be concealing their own nagging doubts....especially in case of child suicide.  This type of statement may foster increased fear and trepidation, which they may be afraid to admit to, and discuss.


And finally, the NUMBER ONE thing to NEVER say to a Surviving Parent:

1. "God works in mysterious ways. We can't always understand God's Will."

This implies that God was either complicit in, the perpetrator of, of indifferent or powerless in the child's death, and its prevention.  Due to "FREE WILL,' millions of things happen on this planet each and every day that are not God's Will (e.g. rape and murder of a child; a person going to hell)...and yet those things happen.  Implying or asserting that everything that happens is God's Will can lead to, or magnify, the Surviving Parent's anger, alienation, and rejection toward and of God.


Surviving Parents, especially in the early days, weeks, and months of their despair, grieving, and mourning, need compassion, understanding, patience, and love......NOT a sermon or a barrage of Scripture.  Remember an adage that lies within the Physician's Hypocratic Oath:

"FIRST, DO NO HARM."

          So, what SHOULD you say to a Surviving Parent?  


                                        WE RECOMMEND:


"I can't even begin to imagine how horrible and devastating your child's death is to you.  I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose my child.  I feel so helpless, because I just can't come up with the right words to say.  If I could, I would take on your pain, and heal your heart.  All I can do is be here for you, to hold your hand, and to comfort you with my love for you.  Please know how sorry I am for your horrible loss, and how much I love you."   


This type of statement lets the Surviving Parent know that you 

  • recognize the enormity and uniqueness of their pain;
  • empathize with them, as best you can; 
  • would do anything to help their healing;  
  • that you love them, and; 
  • are committed to being there for them.  

Poetic version of the message of this page

Ten Things

 There are Ten Things to NOT be said

To Moms and Dads whose kids are dead;

Ten Things that make it hard to cope;

Ten Things that rip away all hope.


Ten Things that people often say,

To try to take the pain away.

Sincere, but harmful to the heart;

So please take note so you can start


To be a help to Dads and Moms

Who don’t know where Peace will come from;

Who’ve suffered the worst kind of pain:

A loss that leaves a horrid stain.


“We can’t know God’s All-perfect Will.”

Those painful words, they haunt me, still.

For not all things are willed by God.

To think so is so very odd.


When He bestowed “Free Will” on man,

It brought about His Perfect Plan.

But not all things are good and just:

Like greed, and hate, and damning lust.


But if man could not utter “No.”

His “Yes” would have no meaning, so

Because man chooses to rebel

Our sin can lead us straight to hell.


It’s not His Will that we should die,

Apart from Him; that is a lie.

Our loss is steeped in our foul sin.

That’s true in the world we live in.


“Was he a Christian?” Often asked

By many burdened with the task

Of counseling sad parents who

Do what all hopeful parents do.


They hope and pray if they don’t know.

Their fear and pain they oft don’t show.

For they may have some dreaded doubt

So better to leave this one out


Of your initial look into

What healing task that you may do.

To raise some doubt about the fate

Of children whose folks now must wait


Is ill advised, a risk at best.

‘Tis better to find out first, lest

Your well-intended questions lead

To deeper fear, and painful need.


“God gives, but then He takes away.”

Are words that lead to deep dismay.

Because it says to parents lost

That their child’s life might be the cost


Of their own sin, or that God calls

On us to rob when darkness falls.

Or that somehow the circumstance

Or person, or an act of chance


Was God’s design to take our joy;

To sweep away our girl or boy;

To leave us here with empty hearts.

To steal our peace, and tear apart


Our very lives. It’s just not true.

Because God does not try to do

That which destroys us, He’ll make whole

Our wounded heart, our shattered soul.


He did not take my son away.

And there’s no doubt that He will stay

Beside me. and due to His Grace

I’ll one day see my sweet boy’s face.


“Oh, No! Please tell me how he died.”

When I heard that, I sat and cried.

Because it seemed that he who asked

Was focused on the morbid task


Of finding out the lurid facts,

Not healing pain, or sharing acts

Of simple kindness, peace, and love,

Or bringing comfort from above.


So, friend, I beg you, please don’t ask.

Don’t burden parents with the task

Of giving details at a time

When loss is new, it is a crime.


They’ll give to you what is THEIR need

To share, so that they can be freed

From having to relive the day

That tragedy took joy away.


“You were the perfect Mom and Dad.”

These words can make a parent sad,

Because regret is always there;

A fear that somehow their best care


Was not enough to guard their child.

Regret is bred in guilt defiled.

No matter how a parent tries,

The doubt within them always lies.


It’s better to bring focus to

The richness that they always knew

Was there between them in the days

They had together; God will raise


Them to some comfort later on,

But never will the pain be gone.

They won’t get past it, but they can

Use it to be a better man


Or woman, and to use their pain

To help restore a peace again

To other parents who have lost

All hope due to a horrid cost.


“I’m sure you did all you could do.”

Again, these words just don’t ring true

To any parent who has gone

Through such a loss; It’s just plain wrong


To make assumptions when they might

Have made mistakes or had a fight

With their child just before their death.

Don’t say these words, they’ll rob the breath


Of any hope for peace and rest

In troubled souls, because the best

Is not enough to thwart the thief.

These words can oft prevent relief.


“At least you have another child.”

To say this stinks is just too mild.

Because each child’s a unique gift,

A parent’s love can never shift


Away from one child to the next;

To say these words may truly wreck

The chance for you to help their soul.

Their loss has left a gaping hole. 


“I know just how you feel right now.”

When I heard this I "had a cow."

No other loss is like this one.

To lose a daughter or a son


Is not intended, and obscene.

I know these words aren’t meant as mean,

If you’ve not suffered this great loss,

Then you don’t know just how it costs


A grieving parent all their hope;

They’ve lost all tools they need to cope.

They’ve lost all hope, and peace and joy.

It died right with their girl or boy.


“In time you’ll overcome this pain.”

Believe me, this most horrid stain

Will always be there, and will lie

Inside their heart until they die.


Death of a child will always hurt.

So please think first before you blurt

Out promises which can't be kept.

No child-based mem'ries may be swept


Away into forgotten rooms,

So don’t be one who then assumes

That time can heal and cast afar

A parent’s pain who has those scars.


“At least he’s in a better place.”

No matter, this is out of place,

While this might be their true belief,

These words don’t always bring relief.


For we can’t know if they’re without

That nagging voice; that haunting doubt.

And also, while it may be true,

Their time with their sweet child is through.


And, sometimes this straddles the fence

Of facts which aren’t in evidence.

Because the parent may feel dread

Now that their child is truly dead.

…………………..

So now you know what NOT to say

When death takes parents’ hope away.

It’s not enough to teach you how

To NOT respond, so listen now.


Here’s what to say to those you love

When you are sent by God above

To offer comfort and to care,

When they are trapped in deep despair.


What I can say as one who knows

The most horrendous of life’s woes

Is that the sadness never ends.

But these kind words from closest friends


Have helped to ease my deepest loss,

At night when I would turn and toss.

Such simple words felt from the heart

To me, whose life was torn apart


That dreaded day I got the word;

Forever changed the day I heard

My son was killed, still in his prime;

Not from a crash, not from a crime;


But due to folks who came to try

To help, not strangers passing by,

But closest friends, and one who came;

Their lives will never be the same.


“I cannot know how you must feel.

I only know my pain is real.

I feel so helpless, and would give

My life if your sweet child could live.


“To me you are so very dear;

If you’ll allow, I will stay near,

To hold your hand and cry with you.

I know these words are very true:


“My heart is broken, and I weep.

You’re in my heart, and I will keep

You in my prayers, I mourn your grief.

I pray God brings to you relief.


“And if you’re angry, that’s okay

With God, beside you He will stay.

You’re ever in my grieving heart.

I want so much to be a part


“Of healing, I won’t leave your side.

In my heart you do now abide.

My heart is broken, my sweet friend.

My love for you will never end.


“To hearts where grief will always stay

I wish to take the pain away,

But, I know this I cannot do.

Please know, my friend, that I love you.”


My thanks goes out to all of you

Whose open minds and hearts will do

All that you can to not destroy

All Hope of God’s Returning Joy.


Copyright 2015, Joel Johnson

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directed to people who may have wounded surviving parents

Sticks and Stones

The man who said, "While sticks and stones

Break bones, words are not bad,"

Did not know how a parent moans

Because a child is sad.


He did not know that in their love

They’d die to save their kin

From all the evil God above

Hates most, and deems as “sin.”


He didn’t how how many try

To shelter and to spare;

That even though they often cry

It’s not enough to care.


In spite of how they work and slave

To do their very best,

Sometimes they can’t protect and save

Their children from the rest


Of all the things that lurk and hide

In this big scary world.

They can not always stem the tide

As danger is unfurled.


Because, in spite of what they do

To shelter and make whole,

Their little ones are people, too,

Each with a willful soul.


I write this verse to those who blame,

To self-proclaimed “experts,”

Whose “counsel” worsens pain and shame;

Whose “wisdom” wounds and hurts.


Your words are logs and boulders thrown,

So please do pause and pray,

Before you open your big mouth

And take their peace away.


How would you like it if some fool,

Who did not have the facts,

Assumed that your parental rule

Caused all your children’s acts?


How would you like it if your pain

And loss were made much worse

By words that damage, warp, and stain?

Please take to heart this verse.


Copyright 2013, Joel Johnson

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