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Could you ask the suicide question?

I was a Samaritans volunteer some years ago, and I must have listened to hundreds of people who had the blues, or were more seriously depressed. Mind you, that did not make me an expert. Part of our training, however, meant that we were required to ask every caller the “suicide question”. That did not mean asking directly “are you thinking of killing yourself?” but it did mean putting the caller on the spot in terms of revealing just how bad they felt. There are many ways of subtly asking this question.

That’s not a bad plan when it is your friend who is leaning on your shoulder. They might just confide in you that, yes, they had been wondering whether it was worth carrying on. Or they might sit up, stare at you, and say something like, “Oh my goodness, you didn’t think that, did you? I just wanted you to cheer me up, that’s all”.

Once you are sure that it is nothing worse than “feeling down”, you can be a real friend in many ways. The first thing you can do is listen. Everyone can, and should, learn the art of positive listening. That means giving someone all the time they need to say what they want, or, if it is their desire, not to say anything at all. Silence is not a problem in these situations. If your friend wants to sit there saying nothing, that should not worry you. 

However, if they want to unburden themselves, you can be there for them. Just being a sounding-board is a positive thing. If they are confused about how they feel, you can help them to sort things out. Don’t put thoughts into their head or words into their mouth, but ask gently probing questions that help the train of thought to develop. It is not your job to solve their situation for them, but you can help them to come to their own decision as to what to do next.

  • Question /

    So, could you ask someone the suicide question?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Question /

    Are you a good listener?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Question /

    Have you ever been grateful for a friend who listened to you?

    • Yes
    • No

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What do you think?

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Written by Indexer

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11 Comments

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  1. Unfortunately, listening is one of the skills that many people are not willing to be patient to practice it. I came to learn those who contemplate suicide wants someone to listen to their need to end their own lives. The listening itself can help that person to stop commiting suicide because it shows someone is listening.
    And, I don’t like it when people condemn those who want to commit suicide instead of offering any assistance.

    • I don’t think so. Anyone can do this. All it takes is patience and the willingness to let your own opinions take second place. You must also not be afraid of silence – a lot of conversations of this kind include long pauses in which nothing is said and the troubled person is given time to collect their thoughts.

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