Saving a Life

What to do to Help Save a Life… Helper Tasks


Engage the person at risk in a personable way.
Explore the individual’s situation from his or her point of view.
Show him or her that you want to understand his or her feelings.
1. Use attending skills– Let the person know you are paying attention and make the person feel accepted. Maintain eye contact, give your full attention, and let your personal reactions show on your face. Also communicate attention through your body posture by sitting forward, leaning toward the person, and not acting distracted.
2. Use expressive skills- Have, being able to see and feel things from the person’s perspective, use self-disclosure by revealing yourself. Share times when you may have felt as they do. Expressive skills show that you are listening closely and that you are connecting to what is being said. For example and empathic response such as, “It must seem like these feelings will never stop,” can convey understanding.


Identify whether or not the person is currently thinking about suicide. Signs might include risk factors, including direct expressions of ideas or plans about suicide.
– Ask, “Are you thinking about suicide?” and/or “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
– Ask, “Do you have specific plans on how you do it?” and “What are they?”


Inquire into the reasons why these events and feelings are leading to a consideration of suicide at this
time. Why now?
– You are trying to learn as much as possible about what the person is feeling and whether he or she sees suicide as the solution. What are the current stressors and what is making the person feel the most distress? What is really important is not how you view the problem, but how the person sees it.
– Do not expect what the person shares with you to be clear and specific.
– Be willing to let the person at-risk vent whatever feelings he or she has about his or her immediate problems and talk openly about thoughts of death.
– Use reflecting skills, reflecting back what you are hearing in order to help the person feel that he or she is being understood.
– As a result of this open, sharing conversation, you may see a turning point that is some indication that the person is ambivalent or unsure about taking his or her life.
– Help identify the personal strengths and opportunities that might orient him or her toward life. Be ready to speak for the life side! But don’t over-do it. The sensitive introduction of commitment to life allows both sides of ambivalence to be experienced by the person at-risk.


Use closed questions that require yes/no answers. Be specific. The questions you ask at this point address the person’s plan for suicide and information about prior suicidal behavior.
– When you want to know about a current plan, ask (1) How he or she plans to do it : “Have you thought of how you might kill yourself?” (2) How prepared he or she is to do it: “Do you have a gun at home?” (3) How soon he or she is planning to do it: “Do you plan on killing yourself in the near future? This month? This week?”
– Find out how close the person is to his or her friends and family. Explore how you might be able to help him or her to feel closer.
– You need to ask whether the person attempted suicide before, ask directly about these attempts: “Have you ever made a suicide attempt before?” “What happened when you did?”
It is important to remember that there is no way anyone can be certain about somebody else’s likelihood of dying by suicide. Your assessment is a combination of gut feelings and an assessment of risk factors. What you will develop is your best guess about the probability of something happening rather than a certainty that it will.

Develop an Action Plan

This involves you and the person at-risk coming to an agreement and putting a plan into action that prevents the immediate risk of suicide: Is the person at risk as ready as you are? You need to make sure that the two of you are working together toward the same goal.
– Share your assessment of the degree of risk with him or her. “I think you are really in danger of hurting yourself.” Most plans, to be effective must have the cooperation of the person at risk. If the person is hesitant, or unsure, return to the INQUIRY tasks and reopen the issue of ambivalence.
– You need to realize that the person always maintains the option of suicide for the future. You need to allow this. It is unrealistic to expect that your conversation has entirely resolved ambivalent feelings about suicide.
– There are several parts to a good action plan.
1. Be specific– Details about what’s to be done must be clearly understood. Being specific is very important. Leaving things vague and non-specific can be dangerous.
2. Limit objectives– Remember that your role is to help until the immediate danger, or the threat of suicide, has passed. The action plan is not meant to be a total solution for all the person’s problems. Be realistic. Do not make false promises or resort to phony statements. (For example, “It will be alright.”
3. Work together- Both you and the person at-risk are at risk committing to fulfilling your responsibilities according to the plan. You are mutually agreeing to a commitment to life.
4. Confirm the commitment– The person at-risk agrees not to engage in any self-harming behavior for an agreed-upon time period. Ask the person to repeat the agreement out loud; both of you will experience a feeling of relief.
5. Develop crisis control– Build in some arrangement for emergency support if the steps of your plan for action cannot be carried out or if the commitment cannot be maintained until the set follow-up time. (For example, have the person or parents call the local suicide hotline or paramedics).
6. Spell out the follow-up– Set the date and time for another meeting between you and the person at-risk, or between the person at-risk and whatever follow-up resources you have agreed to (such as a meeting with the school counselor).


Information adapted from the “California Helper’s Handbook”
Used by permission of The Glendon Association.
Website: | Phone: 805-681-0415