Wikipedia:Helping suicidal individuals
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Wikipedia is a place where anybody can search for information or find answers to their questions. It aims to be, and is seen by most people as, a civilized and welcoming community. In serving the public, Wikipedia inevitably attracts some people who feel that there is no one to turn to for emotional support, and so they ask for help from total strangers. Some established Wikipedians who are suicidal may declare their intent, seeking help from their friends here. Some Wikipedians may feel they can handle this: others do not. This page seeks to provide advice in either helping the suicidal person personally, or directing them to find help elsewhere.
- 1 Basics of responding to suicidal people
- 2 How NOT to respond to a suicide message
- 3 Common misperceptions about suicide
- 4 List of crisis hotlines
- 5 Should we call the authorities?
- 6 See also
- 7 Citations
Basics of responding to suicidal people
Note that it is generally best to let the suicidal person choose the venue for discussion. In many cases, they may feel safer talking to you privately. To facilitate this, consider having email enabled in your preferences. In case the person does not have an account, you can register for a throw-away email account, so your main one isn't cluttered with spam, and post that email address publicly. Either way, try to place the information on how to email you somewhere where the suicidal person can see it, but without pressuring them to use it.
If you are interested in what is best for the person, it is recommended that you do your best to be a good listener. While suicide may have statistical trends, it is really something that can only be understood individually.
"When we learn that the most densely populated parts of the world have the highest incidence of suicide, and that suicides cluster in certain months of the year, do we thereby learn a single adequate, explanatory motive? No, we learn only that the phenomenon of suicide is also subject to the laws of great numbers, and that it is related to other social phenomena. Suicide can be understood only individually, even if it has social preconditions and social consequences." — Alfred Adler, psychoanalyst
In the beginning, at least, it is recommended that you ask generic questions. Strive to avoid making assumptions. If your assumptions are incorrect, this may encourage the person's belief that they are misunderstood, and make them feel like they aren't being listened to. Perhaps more important than what they say is what they don't say. Listen actively - rather than assuming they mean what seems most obvious, ask further questions to clarify what they mean. This page provides excellent advice on active listening and finding hidden meaning.
Do not press the person to answer questions they are uncomfortable with. Respect their boundaries. In some cases, lack of respect for privacy may be part of the reason they are depressed in the first place. If they say they don't want to talk about something, don't talk about it.
While you should try to avoid making assumptions, it is likely that the reason the individual is considering death boils down to one simple reason: wanting to avoid pain. By pain, we mean generic pain - physical, emotional, whatever. If the person can find a way to avoid pain without killing him or her self, this will most likely remove the motivation for wanting to end their life.
Before you get to the point of making suggestions for alternatives to suicide, you should do your best to get to know the person's unique situation and feelings. Once you do, however, be careful not to be limited simply by what you think the person should do. Offer as wide a range of possibilities as you can think of.
Here is a college councellor's description of a conversation with a student who was very religious, single, pregnant, and suicidal:
"I did several things. For one, I took out a single sheet of paper and began to "widen her blinders." Our conversation went something on these general lines: "Now, let's see: You could have an abortion here locally." ("I couldn't do that.") ...."You could go away and have an abortion." ("I couldn't do that.") "You could bring the baby to term and keep the baby." ("I couldn't do that.") "You could have the baby and adopt it out." ("I couldn't do that.") "We could get in touch with the young man involved." ("I couldn't do that.") "We could involve the help of your parents." ("I couldn't do that.") "You can always commit suicide, but there is obviously no need to do that today." (No response.) "Now, let's look at this list and rank them in order of your preference, keeping in mind that none of them is perfect.
"The very making of this list, my non-hortatory and non-judgmental approach, had already had a calming influence on her. Within a few minutes her lethality had begun to de-escalate. She actually ranked the list, commenting negatively on each item. What was of critical importance was that suicide was now no longer first or second. We were then simply "haggling" about life---a perfectly viable solution."
— from Shneidman's Definition of Suicide
Also see the section entitled "What skills are useful to be a volunteer?" on this page of the Samaritan website.
How NOT to respond to a suicide message
When responding to a message which seeks help for a suicidal problem, never revert their post under the assumption that it is trolling — not even if there is very good evidence that this is the case (i.e. the editor is a repeat offender). They may be testing the water to see if anyone cares about them. Or, they may have been trolling in the past but are genuine on this occasion. Even if they have posted similar statements in the past, those may be legitimate cries for help. Undoubtedly, some suicide posts are merely trolling; however, because of the seriousness of the issue, it is important to always assume that the editor is genuinely suicidal.
It is equally important that Wikipedia editors never respond to a suicidal message with personal attacks or humour. People who are considering suicide often feel that they are isolated from society and that there is no one who cares about them. Responding in an aggressive way will almost certainly increase the person's feeling of isolation. Responding with humour, no matter how well intended (eg. as a way of lightening their mood), may well have a similarly disastrous effect. This may be a life-and-death situation for them, not one where levity or humor is an appropriate response.
Do not call the person "crazy" or "deranged." While people with certain problems like schizophrenia may have a higher probability of killing themselves, this does not mean a rational person cannot decide to kill him or her self. To insist that suicide is necessarily the consequence of irrationality "is absurd and infuriating to those who have spent time at the bedside of dying patients who are suffering severely with no good choices." (Quill Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior) Don't use the phrase "suicide threat" either: this may be offensive to the person, implying that they are considering suicide to hurt others rather than for their own good, or even altruistic reasons.
"If you talk to people immediately after they made a serious suicide attempt, they'll have a very altruistic explanation for what they did. They believed it was the wise, clever and thoughtful thing to do." — Dr. David C. Clark
Dealing with improper responses from other editors to a suicide message
Humourous or derisive posts written by other editors in response to a suicidal message must be treated as an especially severe infraction, given the seriousness of the subject. Any improper response to a "cry for help" should be immediately reverted. However, as suicide is an uncomfortable topic to many people, be forgiving to the offending editor. Do not leave any npa template warnings. Instead, leave a message asking the editor to read this page so that they will know how to properly handle similar situations in the future.
Common misperceptions about suicide
Bringing up suicide could give a depressed person the idea to kill him or her self.
This is false: you can be fairly certain the person already thought about it. Bringing up the topic will not cause a previously non-suicidal person to become suicidal. However, if the person in suicidal, the question could be relieving, perhaps making the person feel better understood and lessening the tension around the topic.
People who talk about suicide don't really intend to kill themselves.
False. Erwin Stengel estimates that 3/4 of people who try to kill themselves, successfully or otherwise, give a clear warning of their intent. Perhaps some of them do so because their warning was ignored or ridiculed.
If a person means to commit suicide, he or she will succeed. People who don't die aren't serious.
This is wrong. Louis Dublin, a respected statistician, estimates that one third of people who attempt suicide fully intend to die, but less than half of these succeed in dying. They may not know how, or be rescued unexpectedly.
Another third do not want to die, but rather wish to make a suicidal gesture. Note that these people are in serious pain - they would not be going so far to get help if they were not. Furthermore, a number of them still die, when their methods are more lethal than they intend, or loved ones arrive too late or are simply disinterested. Don't ignore someone just because they may be seeking attention.
The last third are gambling, and don't care whether they live or die so long as the pain ends.
List of crisis hotlines
In the event of a suicide crisis anywhere on Wikipedia, you can recommend the suicidal individual seek help from the following free resources. (Note that not all are international.) Some will keep confidentiality with individuals seeking help, others will not and will go so far as to trace calls from someone they believe is about to kill him or herself. If you contact one of these groups and this is important to you, ask first. The Samaritans, a British group, do keep all matters relating to suicide confidential.
Remember that suicidal people are often unlikely to use suicide hotlines. In one study, only 5% of suicides had been in contact with a hotline. Nearly half the calls hotlines get are pranks. Of the other half, many are depressed people wanting someone to talk to, but only a small fraction are actually suicidal. If you are a friend of the suicidal person, remember that the person might prefer talking to you.
- Samaritans Email: email@example.com
- International Federation of Telephone Emergency Services
- Former Befrienders International website (now maintained by Samaritans UK)
- SuicideHotlines.com (international)
- TeenHelp.org (for teens)
- National Hopeline Network
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- SuicideHotlines.com (Canada)
[Someone with knowledge of United States / Florida law please insert legal discussion here.]
Legal issues aside, here are some pros and cons:
- The authorities may be able to make resources available that could help the person.
- In some jurisdictions, suicide is legal, and the authorities may not be able to forcibly hospitalise the person.
- Checkuser may not always provide information that will help the authorities find the person.
- Fear of forced hospitalisation may cause a suicidal person to simply kill him or her self rather than seeking help.
- The suicide rate in hospitals is 5x greater than outside, despite the controlled conditions. Is this because the people in the hospital are more suicidal anyway, or because the conditions of the hospital pushed them over the edge?
- The authorities will not be needed if the person can be convinced not to kill him or her self.
In order to provide the authorities with any information, a checkuser will be needed.
- original refs in Hendin, 1995, p208-10.// Bridge, TP et al "Suicide prevention centers. Ecological study of effectiveness." J Nerv and Mental Disease, 1977, v164, pp18-24.// Lester, D. "Effect of Suicide Prevention Centers on Suicide Rates in the United States" Health Services Reports, 1974 Jan-Feb; v89#1, pp37-39.