Disclaimer: The goal of Conquer with Na’Kole is to provide education and support for moms (and concerned loved ones) as they conquer the giants that seek to conquer their children. I, Na’Kole Watson, am not a licensed mental health professional nor am I offering professional mental health services or advice. Therefore, I accept no liability or responsibility to anyone as a result of any reliance upon the information produced on this site or in any communication issued by Na’Kole Watson and Conquer with Na’Kole. The views expressed on this and any other affiliated website are my own, and all sources are linked. If you are in crisis, please contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. If this is an emergency, please dial 911 immediately.
As someone who has survived multiple suicide attempts, I would have given anything to hear certain words come out of the people I loved the most. Unfortunately, that was not my experience. I was either met with silence or with something that only made me feel worse about myself and my situation.
I’ve been doing this work a long time, and what I have realized is that sometimes, people just plain do not know what to say.
No worries, though – that’s why you’re here reading this article today.
I’m going to tell you what you can say, and I’m going to tell you why these words will be effective. Keep in mind, this is what I have learned from personal experience. Ultimately, your relationship with the person you’re concerned about will help you to tailor these phrases to fit the situation.
This list is taken directly from The Ultimate Suicide Prevention Guide, which is an ebook (also available in print form) and video course bundle that tells you virtually everything you need to know about suicide and suicide prevention. Information about The Ultimate Suicide Prevention Guide will be posted at the end of this article.
I’m going to preface this list by admonishing you to please refrain from using any of these words if you do not mean them. One of the most damaging things you can do to a person who is contemplating suicide is to be disingenuous to them. Please don’t do it! If you don’t mean what you’re about to say, please point them to another resource instead of wounding them further.
And now, let’s get into what to say!
Table of Contents
01 – I will not judge you.
When someone is experiencing suicidal ideation, the last thing they want is to feel judged. If the person feels judged, they will probably pretend that everything is okay.
02 – It’s okay to not be okay.
People don’t realize this, but there are more people who fake being okay than there are who fake having a mental illness. It is more socially acceptable to be okay, so most people pretend. Letting someone know that it’s okay to not be okay often breaks down the barrier between what the person is going through and the support you are willing to give them.
03 – You are safe with me.
Safety is paramount in suicidal ideation crisis intervention. The person who is contemplating suicide needs to know that they are safe. They need to know that you won’t get on social media and blast their business. They need to know that you won’t call family and friends and share the intimate details surrounding their current mental crisis. If you are not a safe person, please do not pretend to be. It could literally be the death of someone.
04 – I care about you
It’s a simple phrase that so many people overlook. People who are experiencing a mental health crisis need to know that they are cared about. Not just their situation, but THEM as a person. Can you see beyond the situation and care about the human being, or do you just pity the situation they’re in? There is a difference.
05 – I acknowledge your feelings.
I cannot tell you how many times I have talked to someone in a suicidal ideation crisis who feels like no one acknowledges how they feel. People are so quick to dismiss the feelings of others and slap a Band-aid of “You’re going to be okay” over them. One of the most helpful things you can do is to acknowledge the validity of the person’s feelings – because they are most definitely valid.
06 I’m listening
People want to be heard. They don’t want to be lectured. They don’t want to be given unsolicited advice. They simply want to be heard.
07 – You matter.
One of the things I listen to when I’m down is a clip from a talk Iyanla Vanzant did. It’s called “You Matter”. She talks about how every part of us matters. Every situation we’re in. Everything that makes us who we are matters. Our ideas matter. We matter.
08 – You have the floor.
Don’t be so quick to speak. Don’t be so quick to offer advice. Let the person get out their thoughts and feelings in completion. There is probably so much bottled up inside that they need to get out. Mental health note: If you do not have the capacity to hear about someone’s trauma, that is understandable. Your role in that situation would be to be the bridge to connect the person to someone who does have capacity. A safe person or a hotline.
09 – I’m here to help.
You may not be able to solve their immediate problem, but you can look up resources for the person, call your village to assist or do what you can to help. There is always something someone can do to help another human being.
10 – I’m concerned about you.
This comes into play when you want to let the person know that you’re not just asking how they’re doing just to be asking. Sometimes showing a person that you are genuinely concerned (or even troubled) by what they are expressing or facing can open the door for them to communicate transparently with you.
11 – Can we call the Lifeline together? (800-273-8255)
The great thing about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is that you don’t have to be the person in crisis to call. You can be a friend, family member or just a concerned person. You can call with the person and you can call for the person. The amazing people who volunteer for the crisis line can speak with you about how to best assist the person who is in crisis, and they will also give you tips that will hopefully get the person to talk to them.
12 – I don’t want you to die.
What I always tell people is something that I learned in suicide prevention crisis intervention training. From personal experience (I have attempted suicide multiple times), I know that most people who are suicidal do not actually want to die. They just want their pain to go away. What was explained to me in training was that we should always speak to the part of the person that wants to live and that we must understand what the person wants to kill – because it’s not themselves. It may be the voices in their head. It may be the constant grief they feel. It may be chronic pain or illness. Saying “I don’t want you to die” speaks to the part of them that wants to live.
13 – I don’t know what to say, but I am listening to you.
If you don’t know what to say, admit that you don’t know what to say. Don’t try to make stuff up in hopes of making the person feel better. Even in a mental health crisis, people can sense patronizing words a mile away. Sometimes all the person needs is for you to listen. And when you’re done listening, ask them if they can think of anything you can do to lighten their load. I’ll say more about that in number 14.
14 – We’ll work through this together.
You may not be able to solve the person’s immediate problem. No one may be able to solve it. However, you can lighten their load. When I go through depressive episodes, my house becomes an absolute mess. I don’t do laundry. There is always a whole bunch of stuff everywhere and I absolutely do not have it in me to straighten things out. What would mean more than the world to me at that moment would be having help with my laundry, someone washing/changing my bed linen, getting my bathroom cleaned – stuff like that.
Different people may require different things – but the important thing is to show the person that you are willing to help them work through their situations. Instead of just saying “Is there anything I can do?” or “Let me know if you need anything”, try to suggest things that may be beneficial to the person.
15 – I’ve got your back.
This is a big one. I don’t mean this in the “picking sides” way (unless you really just want to pick sides, which is your choice). I mean it in the “I’m gonna stick beside you” way. Letting a person know that you have their back is priceless. There is an amazing person who I love dearly who lives about 75 minutes from me. I have seen her maybe three times and I’ve talked to her (voice-to-voice) maybe four times. But every time she texts me and tells me that she has my back, a fresh wave of strength rises up in me. Just to know that someone is out there supporting me means the world.
16 – I love you.
Such a simple phrase, such a big impact. Just think about how it makes you feel when someone tells you that they love you and you know that they really mean it. Oftentimes, people who are experiencing suicidal ideation do not feel loved, so telling them that they are loved can make a life-saving difference.
17 – You are not alone.
Loneliness has always been a huge problem for people with depression. During this time, when everything is so polarized and so many people have had to break communication with their families and friends over things like vaccines, masks, political parties and religions, loneliness is even more of a thing. There are people experiencing loneliness now who have always been surrounded by family but had to part ways because of irreconcilable differences. That can most definitely contribute to suicidal ideation. People can fight better when they know that they are not fighting alone.
I want to add a caveat to this, though. Please do not say this in a condescending way. This is not a “me too” or a “we are ALL feeling lonely” or an “ALL of us are going through it” type of “you are not alone”. It’s a “Where you are is valid. What you’re going through is valid. I am here to support you while you go through it” type of “you are not alone”. There’s a big difference between the two.
18 – You are not crazy.
All of us feel crazy from time to time, but when you are experiencing a suicidal ideation crisis, you really feel crazy. From the thoughts and voices in your head telling you that you don’t matter, that you deserve to die, and that no one will care or miss you once you’re gone to the nonstop agony you feel from being trapped in your own body – you most definitely feel crazy. Hearing that you’re not crazy helps to quiet the storm that’s going on inside long enough to let hope in.
19 – I can’t say that I totally understand, but I CAN say that absolutely I care.
You don’t have to understand. And honestly, it can be offensive to someone if you claim that you totally understand where they’re coming from. You don’t, because you’re not them. Even if you both lost your 67-year-old mother, your loss and their loss are not the same. Instead of saying that you totally understand, say that you absolutely care.
More than anything, speak from your heart. I wholeheartedly believe that if your heart is pure and you are intentional with your words, you will say what is needed in the time it is needed.
I hope this article was helpful to you! Feel free to share it on the social media platforms listed in the sidebar, and be sure to subscribe to my email list so that you don’t miss when I release new articles!
Thanks so much for being here! If you would like to add to the list, feel free to leave a comment!
As promised, let me tell you about The Ultimate Suicide Prevention Guide.
The Ultimate Suicide Prevention Guide is the premier resource for concerned family members and friends who want to help their loved ones with suicidal ideation without being overbearing or spending tons of time and money earning a degree in the mental health field. It’s perfect for parents, educators, business owners, coaches and members of the clergy.
If you would like more information about The Ultimate Suicide Prevention Guide, visit http://GrabMyGuide.com!