“You Can’t Do Everything”: Limitations in Helping a Suicidal Person

Just about every list of “suicide myths” mentions this one: “If a person is serious about killing themselves then there is nothing you can do.”  But is it always a myth?

In important ways, yes, it is a myth. There are many things that loved ones of a suicidal individual can do to help – things like asking directly about suicidal thoughtsfully listening to the person, providing nonjudgmental emotional support, removing firearms and other lethal means from the home, giving a list of resources for help and support, and helping them to get professional help.

At the same time, especially when suicidal thoughts and behaviors persist for many months or years, loved ones may come to a point where they have to recognize their limitations.  In some important ways, their hands are tied.

Recognizing My Own Limitations with a Loved One

I came to the realization many years ago that I could not fully protect a close friend from suicide. She went through an extremely suicidal time for over a year. One night, she came to my house at midnight with her wrist bleeding. She had attempted suicide. She refused to let me call an ambulance, and it even took much persuading before she would let me take her to the ER. They gave her stitches and discharged her to my house (she refused hospitalization and did not meet criteria for involuntary commitment). The doctors advised me to remove all sharp implements and pills from her reach.

My friend stayed with me a couple days. When she went back home, I was left with this feeling of abject helplessness, this recognition that she might kill herself, and also this sudden acceptance that ultimately I could not control if she died by suicide.

Even when she was at my house, even with all my sharp implements and pills hidden in the locked trunk of my car, I could not have prevented her suicide. I had to use the bathroom sometimes. I had to sleep. She could have walked out the door at any time and found other sharp implements, pills or means to die by suicide. 

Recognizing Your Limitations

No matter how desperately you may wish otherwise, there is only so much you can do to stop another person from dying by suicide. You cannot monitor a family member or friend every second of the day. You cannot remove all means for suicide entirely from their world. Although you can talk with them about their suicidal thoughts, you cannot read their mind if they choose not to share them.

Even professionals are not fully able to prevent suicides. One study found that almost 1 in 5 people who died by suicide had seen a mental health professional within 30 days of their death.  That means that in the United States, with almost 43,000 people dying by suicide in 2014, more than 8,000 of them had recently seen a mental health professional. A study in Finland found that almost 10% of suicides occurred within 24 hours, at most, of an appointment with a health professional.

Even inside locked psychiatric hospital units, even when patients are under constant supervision, some patients die by suicide. That is staggering. It is also illuminating. If mental health professionals and psychiatric hospitals cannot prevent all suicides, then how can friends and family be expected to do so?

Coping with Your Limitations

When I realized my inherent limitations with my friend, I came up with a saying (I’m sure I’m not the first):

Do everything you can, but know you can’t do everything. 

It is hard, terribly hard, to sit with the fundamental helplessness you may feel about your loved one who is in danger of suicide.  At these times, it can be helpful to really recognize that many, maybe most people, who die by suicide have depression, post-traumatic stress or another mental illness, a genuine and sometimes severe illness, just like cancer or heart disease. Although the illness is treatable in most cases, and although most suicidal people go on to live many years without ever dying by suicide, the illness occasionally proves to be fatal.

Michael J. Gitlin, M.D., is a psychiatrist who lost a patient to suicide shortly after  finishing his psychiatric residency. He wrote about his experience in a poignant journal article.  As somebody who specialized in treating people with severe depression, he articulated the high probability of suicide among some of his patients. He came to accept that his work was like that of a doctor working with cancer patients: Not everyone could be saved.

I am not saying that loved ones and therapists should not do what they can to prevent a person’s suicide. Of course they should! Many lives have been saved by the actions of concerned others who did their best to help. In fact, my own friend, the one whose possible suicide I’d come to feel hopeless about, recovered.

Not everyone is so fortunate. And when a life is lost to suicide, that does not necessarily mean that anyone failed, that anyone made a grave mistake, or that anyone is to blame.

You do everything you can, with the understanding that “everything you can” cannot be everything. 

EDITED: February 5, 2015; August 12, 2021

Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, is the author of “Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals,” a psychotherapist and consultant, and an associate professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work.

*© Copyright 2013 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All rights Reserved. Written For: Speaking of Suicide. Photos purchased from Fotolia.

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  1. PJ says:

    Early, consistent intervention, based on evidence based mental illness research, education, training, and consistent contact with our loved one -whether our loved one responds to our contact, engagement in the spirit we expect/hope/want from them or not. Genuine advocacy includes not indulging maladaptive coping with the beyond difficult challenges, that ‘always’ run tandem to the mental illness of a loved one, via denial or resentments about the intense commitment we ‘must’ make toward mental health advocacy, and suicide preventative when what we have witnessed -with our own eyes/ears- tells us “this behavior is not just melancholy over a bad day”. It’s NEVER healthy or helpful to respond with ‘attack’ -verbally/physically – when the mentally ill patient/ loved one behaves badly, accuses their caregiver/family member/clinician of things that are disparaging/untrue. An advocate’s job is to remain measured and demonstrate ‘genuine’ empathy when engaging someone struggling with depression and/or in mental health crisis.

    It’s not about guilt we don’t want to feel and need to avoid. It’s not about us anymore than if our mentally ill loved one had a potentially fatal, chronic heart disease with no cure. It’s about ‘knowing’ we tap into, and apply EVERY resource available and EVERY best practices tool with the target of increasing our mentally ill loved one’s sense of hope and self efficacy in our cross hairs to the very best of our ability. If we do that then ‘guilt’ has no place in our journey. It’s a waste of energy. The patients are the priority.
    If you’re the loved one/advocate of a person challenged by mental illness, find yourself a support group.
    Avoid those support groups where group members, thus collective group energy, spirals into a pity party with moderator standing idly by allowing it to continue. Cathartic venting is only healthy to a point. Then, it just becomes self absorbed, pointless self pity.
    Look for encouraging, goal-oriented, problem-solving, relationship strengthening training kind of mantra from your support group. Ask moderator what their clinical training includes. If no actual clinical training, try it out. If the spirit in the room goes ‘war stories, whiney, negative hopeless runamuck with no attempt by moderator to respectfully redirect the catatrophic thinking montague toward positive problem solving, then get the heck out there. Find another support resource.

    • Pete says:

      I think I agree with most of what you say but Im also mindful that you are asking a lot of the people who support those with devastating mental health issues. People who are at their wits end may not want to hear that an emotion they’re feeling has no place in their journey. Or that their cathartic venting is pointless.

      Early, evidence based intervention is a pipe dream for many who are constantly battling a broken system. My loved one was misdiagnosed and spent years bouncing around the system receiving sub-therapeutic interventions and I am very experienced in the administration of of public services. I can’t imagine what it must be like for people who have no experience of it.

      Guilt happens. It’s an unhelpful byproduct of the relational aspects of care but it does happen. You say it’s a waste of energy. What energy? After supporting a chronically suicidal person for many years compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and holding down a job to support the family had taken every bit of energy I had. And sometimes when my loved one said incredibly hurtful things I reacted with anger. Out of exhaustion and hopelessness.

      I could no more find and contribute to a support group than I could wave a magic wand and cure BPD.

      So my message is that as a carer or advocate for an ill person don’t think in terms of absolutes. Don’t say to yourself you must do this. You must never do that. You can’t feel this way. This or that is a waste of time.

      Do your best. Get all the help you can. Feel what you feel and let it pass through you. Take care of your own health and well-being.

  2. Jw says:

    I read this tonight because my husband attempted suicide 2 nights ago. I took the gun out of his hands before he pulled the trigger. He cried like a baby then drove away in the night drunk. I called the cops and they found him and took him to the hospital and he was Baker acted. Now I’m left with 2 babies and many decisions to make. I’m not sure how to cope, what to do, if I want to have him around the kids. I feel like I don’t know him anymore, like I don’t know what he’s capable of or if it’s safe for us to ever be a family again without fear.

    • David Crichton says:

      Dear JW, I hope you have discussed this with many people to make your decision. Yes the children’s lives and yours are very important, but it is very difficult as a separation will increase your husbands feelings of failure. Maybe suggest a temporary safe separation if you can work one out? See what happens with hospital care , but that may make him feel more of a failure as well. It sounds very difficult

  3. Mandy says:

    If we all had empathy and were kind to one another and showed genuine love no one would commit Suicide. But in this world it is the reality right now until it’s made right by someone who is stronger than all of us. God

    • AnonMay2019 says:

      I’m not religious, but I agree with you about empathy. But that takes way too much time and effort. It’s much easier to tell someone to go get help (so long as it’s away from us) or to offer some hollow platitude that takes a few seconds to say.

  4. Anonymous says:

    If a friend of mine dies of committing suicide do I get blamed for it? Though i know you can’t do anything but will I be taken into custody and all of that because I’m so young I don’t want that to affect my future or my parents reputation. Please help.

    • John says:

      Are you still in school? If you are, let your counselor or assistant principal know about the situation. Or, call the local law enforcement agency and let them know. Or call a local suicide prevention hotline.

  5. Debbie says:

    My friend saved a friend from committing suicide … he has gone to see a counsellor … as he was feeling so helpless and confused … it has bothered him so much … how do I support him … in his feelings???

  6. Gloria says:

    A woman who is like a mother to me, in her 80s, has had a variety of illnesses over the last few years. Her depression is deep. I understand her frustration at losing control over her body, and not living the life she used to. We were speaking weekly for 30 years. Throughout her illnesses, I continued calling, even though the woman I knew was gone – she had been lost to the depression long ago. Each call was such agony, as I knew I couldn’t cure her. She has now attempted suicide 4 times, that I know of, by pills over the last 18 months. They never let me know. I just leave a voicemail and never get a call back until after she’s out of rehab. Again. Why does her husband keep the pills available!?! When I speak with her she is so nonchalant about wanting to kill herself. It is torture for me, as I lost my mother to suicide when I was younger. I have told her how painful it is for me that she is suffering, that she speaks about wanting to kill herself. I listen, I encourage, I listen some more. However, now, I have to distance myself to protect myself. I don’t want to be cruel, but I’m the last one still listening to her (besides her husband). Everyone else has abandoned her due to her (lifelong, I admit) negative attitude: (all of the doctors are crazy/wrong/don’t care/bad/look at her funny); there is nothing ever positive for her to focus on – really, she doesn’t even have a TV show that she claims to watch that she likes; she’s helped so many people throughout her life, but now no one is helping her (um, what am I?). She hurts me so much with her casual talk of killing herself. Now that I’ve distanced myself (I’ve told her why), she has become desperate and cruel. Her voicemails are full of anger and demands. It’s agony. I write this here only because so much of suicide discussion is how to stop it (yes, let’s do that!) and giving the person who is considering it the hotline number, but this doesn’t address the reality when they lay it out for you, repeatedly, that they want to die. And, what am I supposed to do? There’s a lot going on here, I know. I know she is hurt, she is wounded. But, my energy is zapped. My home life is suffering. If I cut her off completely, I feel incredibly mean. It’s heartbreaking. Is there a support group for me, for this experience?

    • David Crichton says:

      I feel you need to look after yourself as well by limiting your contact with your friend to certain amounts of time and tasks each week but to say you will not abandon her and want to make the best of those times, but must not allow this to have a major effect on your family. Yes this will make her feel burdensome but it is true and yes she may well attempt suicide again but there is only so much you can give

    • Pete says:

      Gloria, I’m so sorry you are going through this. I have been in a similar situation for a long time. I eventually got to the point where I had to take care of myself and I’m glad you have recognised that you need to do this too. You are not mean. You are obviously a loving and giving person but now is the time to focus on your own wellbeing. You are in a caring role for this lady and there may be local support groups for carers that you could access. Whatever happens, know that you are doing the right thing by putting yourself first. You have a right to be happy and a duty to take care of your own life.

    • AnonMay2019 says:

      Wow. This comment and the two follow-up comments to it are so illuminating, though probably not in the way many expect. Just … wow. It seems clear to me that some problems we humans will never see eye-to-eye on. So who gets to make the big decision? (Rhetorical)

  7. Anonymous says:

    Is hard my daughter is been suicidal 2x I get upset family therapy is not helpful for me I feel worse when I leave her office. I don’t know how to help anymore I am scared I love my daughter. She is taking medication for depression looks better but we don’t really know she doesn’t talk because she knows we get scared.

  8. David says:

    I need help but can’t afford it . I had help in the past but when money ran out I he said I was better.

    [This comment was edited, per the Comments Policy. – SF]

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      It’s so hard to need help and not be able to afford it. Many cities have a mental health agency funded by the county, city, or state that provides help to people without the resources to pay for help. You can also use a hotline, text line, or other resource that I list at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources/#immediatehelp. I hope you get the help you seek, and soon!

  9. Lauren says:

    how can it be that there are all these topics on suicide and helping people with these thoughts,…and yet, my own therapist is not helping me with my thoughts.
    I can’t afford therapy anymore and i’m suicidal all the time. No one around me seems to get how serious this is for me. I actually WANT help and can’t afford it.
    I NEED help and can’t afford it. But no one really cares unless you can afford to PAY for their care.
    Maybe suicide has a correlation with poverty too? I bet so.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      I’m sorry you’re struggling — and alone in that struggle. If you are in the U.S., you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 or text 741-741 at any time. I list other resources at http://www.SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources/#immediatehelp

      There may be low-cost therapy options where you live. For example, some agencies offer free or low-cost therapy in large cities. Community mental health agencies also might be an option. Many therapists adjust their fees according to ability to pay.

      In any case, I hope you get the help you seek!

    • Peg says:

      Believe it or not, I was in that boat too. In 2001, I lost everything. I figured it was time to lose my life to. I attempted and failed. I was saved. And in that moment I had a MAJOR conversion of heart and turned to faith in Jesus. The name of the man who got me to the hospital, I learned later, was named Jesus. After seeing how miserable I truly was, and had been for most of my life, I leaned on faith in God and He answered me. I had a lot of guilt for trying to take my own life too. It tried to weigh me down after, but I knew that if I let it, I was giving in to that old self again. I learned that we all suffer in this world. Some more than others but we can’t measure our suffering against one another because we are all going through something different, but only has some of the same feeling and attributes. What it came down to was, what was missing? I was raised Catholic, but didn’t realized I wasn’t being Catholic. I thought I was the most horrible person on the face of the earth, because I didn’t know who I was and tried to be someone I never was who wanted to fit in with things and groups I never belonged to. I didn’t think I mattered to anyone. What I learned, by praying, picking up a bible and tossing myself into it at all times rather than back into the grip death had on me, was that I did matter to God because He made me and gave me life. I returned back to going to Mass. I went to confession for the first time in 35 years. I was flat broke. Had no friends. No one to turn to but God. And He answered. I still don’t have much in regards to material things, or even good physical heath, but what I do have is the only TRUE friend I need, who has been through all of this with me and knows it all, that being Jesus Christ. I live now for Him, and because of Him. Death has no power anymore over me because He has defeated it, and commands us to live, not die. Death is no longer an option until He says it is. I pray for you and I hope the best for all here.

    • Suzanne Hempel says:

      I agree completely, another major eventuality that happens unfortunately

  10. Robert Nowak says:

    I never seen it coming, every friend i know that killed themselves, It’s because, THEY REALLY WANTED OUT, AND DIDN’T WANT NOBODY TO KNOW, BECAUSE THEY’LL TRY TO STOP THEM. SO SAD.

    [This comment was edited to remove suicide methods, per the Comments Section. – SF]

  11. Karne says:

    My friend tried to commit suicide a few years ago. She hid everything and put on a very happy face. I had no clue that she was hiding huge financial problems. She has several friends who help her out financially. I have little money so I invite her to stuff and accompany her to financial counseling and meetings. She is better now. But, who knows. Maybe she’s charging again and it will start all over. The thing is, I don’t trust her like I once did because she put on such a happy face and represented herself as an independent person. I have a hard time believing what she is telling me and perhaps that will always be the case. We talk at length about her problems, which is okay. But, she mentions her suicide attempt anywhere to anyone. It’s a little unnerving to be sitting in Starbucks and have her talk (loudly) about her suicide attempt. I feel as if this is now how she identifies herself and that seems unhealthy. We are more than our mental illness yet, some people seem to get stuck in a loop even with continued counseling. I was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder long ago. I have found a way to help myself and it’s manageable. I don’t talk about it much unless I feel it’s becoming a problem again because I think we can become obsessed with our own illnesses. I see other friends pulling away. You can hang in there and offer support until it starts to take you down.

  12. daisy says:

    So my husband at the age of 63 [tried to hang himself] for some odd reason I was awake at 5 a.m. and observed this there he was dangling looking like a dead person from a nightmare I went into the kitchen and got a knife went upstairs and cut him down he looked dead but he lived he went to a psychiatric unit for 30 days and a rehab unit for 30 days he’s due to come home soon I’m not looking forward to it I do not want a suicidal person around me especially one that put a noose around their neck and jumped the thought of it makes me sick it makes me nauseous I never ever want to see that person again and I don’t want them around me but my son said I need to try to be supportive so I’ll go with the flow for 12 months but I have to keep my mental health in mind I’m suffering from anxiety depression probably post traumatic stress syndrome I never expected to see a person hanging from a noose it’s like out of the movies and then I had to do CPR and it was gross and disgusting seeds somebody hanging from a noose and like I said I never want to be around that person again but I have to be

    [This comment was edited to abide by the Comments Policy. – SF]

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      I’m so sorry about the trauma you and your family have experienced. To have a loved one attempt suicide is devastating. To actually witness the attempt adds another layer of trauma to what is already traumatic.

      Are you getting help to recover from the trauma you experienced? I hope so. You can text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 if you’d like to talk with someone by text. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can give you advice on how to cope with what you’re experiencing on your husband’s return home; their number is 800-273-8255 (TALK).

      Other resources are listed at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources. In particular, the booklet “Information and Support After a Suicide Attempt” contains advice for family members after someone attempts suicide. It’s geared toward veterans, but the advice is applicable to all.

      May you, your husband, and your family experience soon the healing you seek.

    • Pete Smith says:

      Hi Daisy. You must be going through hell right now and I have been there too. I’m so sorry this has happened to you and your family. I hope your son is a comfort to you in these horrible times,. I think feeling angry is totally normal. I felt the same way. There is no way I could have dealt with such trauma on my own so please consider some talking therapy when you feel ready. I have come home to some horrific scenes in the course of living with a suicidal family member . I had to try to remember that nobody wakes up and just decides to attempt suicide. It is a last ditch attempt to make an unbearable pain go away. Your husband will very likely recover and if you can give your support it will no doubt mean the world to him. On the flip side, remember that your first responsibility is to yourself and your own health so do what you feel is right for you.

  13. Robert says:

    What if my friend cant find housing trying everything he can to look for a place but just keep getting turned down he feels like killing himself and giving up not sure what to do message me on my phone please 778 681 5554 my name is jake but for my friend robert

  14. sierra says:

    Thank you for posting this! It is an issue that no one wants to address. No one thinks about the health of the other person being burned out. thanks again!

  15. Anonymous says:

    For a few months I have been engaging with a suicidal friend of mine who is slowly withdrawing from all relationships in his life. He has told me multiple times that I care when no one else does and that I am all that has been keeping him going. I reached out to a couple of mutual friends who have noticed his withdrawal, but they are not taking him seriously, even though he has never behaved this way before. I was told by one that I was overreacting and that he was just being dramatic. I was also told that I need to let him go. And if he harms himself, its his business. It has been devastating to hear these people who claim to love him show such disregard for his situation. It is possibly even harder to know that he has chosen me to be most open and honest with and that the people I would turn to for my own support and help in showing him that we are all here for him, aren’t here for either of us and are judgmental of me for even holding on to him during this time. When his own argument is that he feels toxic to loved ones, how do I process the response from his loved ones that they can’t be bothered to show an interest. I knew that supporting him and providing a safe place for him was going to be the hardest thing i would ever do. And i knew that some people in his life would be incapable of helping to support him, But I was not expecting to be ridiculed for supporting him by our other friends! I don’t even know how to process the sense of abandonment. I haven’t come across any reading material yet that talks about this either which is even more alienating and makes me doubt the decision to offer help and support to him.

    • Gd says:

      Wow. I’m no therapist but I have strong moral and ethical values. I have seen such behavior before. It seems to me the ones you’ve encountered rudeness from must have severe issues of there own. They also may not comprehend what your experiencing. I would lean more towards them having severe issues of their own. To avoid and degrade such a severe situation when one asked for help to support another has many red flags. I believe your feelings must not be doubted by you. Believe what you are and see. Be strong. My look into this tells me a simple problem that can be a simple solution to certain aspects of the whole ordeal. Those being that derogatory could by all means be the problem to begin with. I suggest ridding your and his environment of those people. Do unto others you wish done to you. That golden rule should help to stay strong and rid of those people. Find new people. It might even go so far as to relocate or move somewhere to have a fresh start. This is only what I see from the bit you’ve typed. This is not a professional plan of action. Just some advice on dealing with both the situations as one. New light can bring new life. Your friend needs to see councilor and probably meds. It’s not the dying it’s the pain they’re feeling

  16. Anonymous says:

    Thank you.
    Thank you.

  17. twinsoul says:

    I am the twin brother of a suicidal person. We live together and at the moment I am caring for him and helping him to manage every aspect of his life. I feel like I am slowly coming to the realisation that I cannot do everything. I love him so dearly; he is the other half of my soul and my instinct is to take over and protect him from the stresses of his everyday life. He has attempted suicide so many times and each time the attempt gets more severe and frightening. 2 weeks ago he climbed a cliff face while the tide was coming in, drank abottle of vodka and cut his wrists, knowing that he would be cut off from help. Miraculously, he was found by the coastguard. This was his 7th attempt in 10 months. Every time, I ask myself what I could’ve done differently to prevent him from getting into such a crisis. He is seeing a good psychologist, has regular visits from the home treatment team and is taking a combination of two antidepressants. I care for him every day, pay his bills, buy cigarettes for him and try to help him face his alcohol addiction – which he denies. He has loving friends and family all around him but deep down I feel that it is only a matter of time before he dies. I live in fear every day and my own life has become unmanageable. My partner is on the verge of leaving me because I cannot step back from the caring role. Every night I lie awake listening for him getting up or moving around. I feel as if I don’t take a step back I will lose my own mental health – the question is how do I step back?

    • Kali says:

      Hang in there. I can’t offer advice of any kind I just wanted to say you are not alone. I am a twin as well and he is half of my soul. Bad GI issues and he is just mentally giving up on trying to get better.

    • Twin/Big Sister says:

      I completely understand what you’re going through and how you feel. I am also a twin/ female, and my twin brother attempted suicide just a few days ago. I resented him for doing that because I could only think of the aftermath of his actions. Who is going to pay for your health care now?, who is going to sit at home and watch over you?, I am the one who is going to be inconvenienced and I don’t want that burden. We were extremely close when we were younger and when we turned about 16 or 17, we started going different paths. I also had a baby and moved out at 18. Since then, our relationship had not been the same. My brother started to go through a dark path. He witnessed my father die from the use of drugs and alcohol, he’s been homeless, and he had his heart broken by a woman who literally meant everything to him. He suffered so much and we (myself and 2 other siblings) didnt take the time and efforts to make sure that he was okay. He was always a burden. We always had to take care of him. He couldn’t keep a job or a place to live on his own or even keep his room clean at our Moms house. He was anti-social so we all just left him alone… All of the time. The older I got, we started planning family events and I would invite him but he always declined, I was angry because the events were within walking distance at times. Like my Sons 5th grade graduation or awards days or band performances. Even when I hosted home events like game nights, he was always invited but he never came. I knew that he dabbled in drugs and alcohol and I figured that he just didnt care enough to clean himself up and support us from time to time. I was angry that he wasn’t an uncle to my son whose father was not a big prt of his life. I resented him because I felt that he never cared about me or my well being because he would always ask me for change to get a cigarette or a beer while taking away from my household and my child. So yes, he tried to commit suicide but I felt that he was being selfish because all he does is mooch and stay in his room all day and walk the streets at night and get high. Meanwhile I’m working hard, taking care of a household, car note and a child all on my own. I should be the one who should be thinking about suicide because I was always overwhelmed and stressed out and unhappy. During this recent event, I had the chance to speak to my twin brother, he was moved from the ICU to the psych ward. He had no idea that he was going. He thought that he was going to leave for home when the hospital staff moved him. My mom was there and she couldn’t go back with him. As she said, he was yelling and screaming that he loves her while being wheeled away. It broke her heart because she knew nothing but my brother told her to make sure that she tells my son that he is really proud of him and that he loves him. Later that night my brother called me and we spoke for 16 minutes. He spoke to my son and delivered his message to him himself. We talked and he had come to terms that he’s stuck there because he is mentally sick and he shared some deep and personal thoughts about me that he didnt think that he knew how to ever tell me. I cried so hard during that call because I have felt for the longest that he never really cared about me or my son. Not caring enough to clean up and be active in both of our lives but always have his hand out. He told me that he loves me and that I’m doing a great job as a single mother and sister and daughter and that he was proud of me. that was the most sincere thing that he’s ever said to me in our whole lives. I told him that I was crying because I was sad, I was happy and over emotional and crying was my natural instinct in that moment. I am NOT a crier, especially in public or around people. I’ve come to find out from my mom that my brother would always come and ask for spare change mostly to get his fix but to just talk to me, just to see me and check in. This was his way of doing so because I never visited him. I never called him. I hated when he came by because I knew what he wanted but now I am sad at myself for not giving him more time. I’d always just shut the door on him or just stick my hand out and go away. He needed help and I brushed him off. I’d never thought that he’d be suicidal. Maybe a little looney but never take his own life. And I never knew that he cared so much but he always noticed and he always cared. He didnt know how to express himself. Before our conversation, I had the thought that well, if he had died, he’ll no longer be a burden on us, mom especially. I figured that he didnt do anything for me anyway so whatever, he didn’t impact my lifestyle right now. But seeing him in the hospital bed helpless and reaching out for help and telling all of us that he’s so sorry, he never meant to hurt anyone and that he had so much love for all of us made me realize that I and my family as a whole has to do better. We are his only family and he loves us dearly but he doesnt know how to tell us, or show us. He thinks that I don’t like him and that he’s a pest and that was my feelings towards him for a long time. He just needed love and I didn’t know how to show it. We all are struggling with the L word towards each other and hugging and regularly calling and doing things together but this must change before it happens again. We’re all well into adulthood and capable of gathering and calling and saying I Love You without feeling awkward or making jokes about how we’re not “that” type of lubby dubby family. This incident is a true wake up call to be more involved and aware. I am so happy that he is still with us because as awful as it sounds, we needed this moment to make the necessary changes to become closer and to help my brother feel whole, feel worthy of living and to start the conversation and to be a family like we should be.

  18. Mason says:

    I suffer from bipolar depression, and severe anxiety… people around me say they care and love me, but I don’t doubt that they could get over it if I did take my life….

    • Veronica says:

      I am a survivor of suicide – one of the closest and most important people to me took his life 4 years ago, and it pains me every day to think that he might have felt the same way before he took his life. I will never get over him and neither will his family or friends. He might have been difficult while he was alive because of his severe depression and anxiety, but I’d give an arm and a leg to have him back. Everyone who knows him feels the same way.

    • Sarag says:

      This really sounds like my friend i’m desperately trying to help if this is how she also feels about me I don’t know what i’d do with myself. I’m a terrible terrible friend if that’s what she thinks of me. I don’t think I’d ever get over it, i’d probably go back to crying every day like I used to I don’t know why i’d even be alive any more myself if she were gone

  19. kara j says:

    Living with a family member who constantly threatens suicide. He has a toddler daughter. He sleeps all day and plays video games all night. He eats terribly and is sedentary and is becoming ill because of it. He’s bitter and mean and refuses help. It’s going on two years now. He refuses to work and just keeps taking. If questioned he says just wait and see I’ll kill myself. Ten years ago he was committed for a year after trying to kill himself. What the fuck am I supposed to do. He’s hurting our family and his child. Of course we want to help but what are we supposed to do. We can’t just keep having talks.

    • twinsoul says:

      Kara, I know what you are feeling. I live with a family member who makes lots of suicide attempts. I feel like I have PTSD seven times over. When I get angry, I try to think about the fact that although suicidal people can appear to be very manipulative, they have an illness which robs them of the power to make sensible choices and sometimes – very hurtfully- robs them of the ability to appreciate the pain of other people. Try to hang to the fact that he does love you and he doesn’t consciously want to hurt you. Im in the process of trying to figure out what to do in my situation. I’m not sure what the next move is, but it will involve taking a step back to protect my own sanity. I hope that you can find a little bit of comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone.

    • Jeff2 says:

      I also live with a relative who frequently says he is going to kill himself. He has said this for years, but fortunately never acts on it. He seems to use it as a way to vent him feelings but doesn’t seem to really mean it. I think at first he liked freaking us out about him and making us worry about him, but it seems like he just likes saying rather extreme things. I think the word for it is hyperbole. When he gets upset, he always says the most extreme things, but doesn’t seem to mean it. He used to take out his frustrations on inanimate objects like doors and walls, punching his fist in them and making holes, but that got too expensive for him, so now he just resorts to words which don’t cost him anything to vent and blow off steam. The sad thing is that now no one takes him seriously, so if ever does mean it someday, we wouldn’t know in time to do anything about it.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Some of the phrasing in the article suggests that mental illness is not a real illness. Compared to “genuine illness…like cancer or heart disease”

    Thanks for trying, but that is quite a flub.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Sorry for my very late response, but I just saw this and was confused by what you wrote, because I would never say that mental illness is not a genuine illness.

      Indeed, the sentence you quoted is not quoted accurately; what I wrote above is, “At these times, it can be helpful to really recognize that most people who end up dying by suicide have depression, post-traumatic stress or another mental illness, a genuine and sometimes severe illness, just like cancer or heart disease.”

      In other words, mental illness is a genuine illness, just like cancer or heart disease.

      I can understand your concerns if I’d said otherwise. Too many people deny the reality and seriousness of mental illness. I hope you will continue to challenge people when you perceive that they deny this reality.

      And in the future, I will have to be careful to be more clear!

  21. greenmonks says:

    Just want to be loved unconditionally. Just once.but who cares? nobody.

    • Anonymous says:

      i want the same thing but no one wants me. nomater what i do i always feel unwanted

    • Ann says:


    • Anonymous says:

      I care 🙂

    • Anna says:

      I do too…

    • Anonymous says:

      I care

    • Gd says:

      I don’t even know you but I care. And it sucks that I have to read that here and respond here. Allow a new vision of yourself. Make changes in your life. Move away if you can. Everything has its triggers. Nobody has to be unhappy. We get stuck in ways and when we do we have to push ourselves to make change. No one is weak. It’s a choice to fight or flight. And if overwhelmed one does not owe anybody anything that causes hurt for them self. It’s not failure. It’s something you weren’t designed to do. You should notice it after many attempts. Thats when you change what your evolved with. Like move away. It’s a free country. There is always a place where someone will fit in. No matter what or how they think or how they act or react. Sounds to me your not in a city or a residence that suits your needs and if true. Be brave and move on to better. Do research. Visit places. Close or far from current place. There is a residents in this earth for you. Be adventurous and find that place. Use the feelings to push you to find your reality and do not give up until you do. We all have reasons and choices. We make our choices by relationships and social influences. Social media can be traumatizing if for you. Avoid it. Delete it. Rid of those things making you unhappy. You have the right to be happy. It’s called civil rights.

  22. Ann says:

    When you loose who you are, you’ve lost everything!!
    Fighting to find myself again, but feeling like a wound up clock and the spring is going to break!
    Verbal abuse is worse than physical abuse..I know..I’ve had both!
    But when you are demeaned and nothing you do is ever right and you fight daily to just get up, I wonder if I will ever get my self with back.
    I’m lost! But I’m fighting to recover! Ty

  23. Mara says:

    I hate it not being within my control, and with my boyfriend’s mom NEVER getting back to me when I call and text her frantically because he’s threatening suicide I feel absolutely hopeless. He texted until 11:19 last night, said he was going to try to sleep. I have not heard from him since, normally he’s up by ten. I have no idea what to do, his mom ignores me, I don’t know his dad’s number, he has no other relatives I know that I can contact. I’m terrified that later today I’ll find out he’s dead, and I feel absolutely helpless. He lives 7 hours away, I don’t know what the hell to do.

  24. I’m writing this on the first day of Suicide Prevention Week for 2015, a week in which I can expect to be inundated with “Know the signs” messages. Those are good messages, but I have lost a younger brother, an ex-fiancee and a childhood best friend to suicide, and none of these deaths happened because I or anyone else missed signs. Other people and I cared deeply about these precious individuals and their struggles. We offered what practical help we could, connected them with professional resources, sought emergency help when needed, and always made sure they knew that they were loved and not alone.

    Along with the lists of signs to look for, I wish we had received more messages about our limits, about how to make peace–both pre and post-mortem–with the disturbing reality that someone who is not being swayed from a determination to exit this world will likely find a way to exit, regardless of the best efforts of others. I wish we had received guidance on how to both care for an individual in turmoil and protect ourselves from the manipulation and abusive behavior that can come with the very real pain and very real desire to die. I wish we had been taught the value of being a source of comfort to someone, even if that comfort does not prolong that someone’s life at all, or as much as we would like. I wish we were talking more about the conditions that set the stage for suicidal ideation–abuse, poverty, addiction; etc.–so that more could be done before people are in a state of desperation and even delusion, from which they cannot or will not extricate themselves. In the case of my friend, his family, other friends, and I wish that, when faced with an intractable illness from which there was no relief, he had been provided a way to die a more dignified death, and we had been provided with ways to support him in an entirely rational decision.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      Beautifully and poignantly said. I completely agree. I think there is potential for harm in the “suicide is preventable” messages. Saying that suicide is always preventable implies that the people around the person did not do enough to prevent the death. In reality, although undoubtedly there are some cases where the suicide might have been preventable, there are many cases where people did everything they could to keep the person alive. And the person still died.

      More recently, various mental health organizations have embraced a goal of zero suicides. This “zero suicide” movement has the same potential for harm, in my opinion. We must remain vigilant against suicide’s forces and do everything within our power to help the person resist those forces. But we must also recognize that sometimes suicide simply happens even with people’s best and proper efforts, and nobody is to blame but the forces of suicide themselves.

      I am very sorry for your losses. You described very well the needs that you and other loss survivors have had, both before and after the deaths. I am grateful that you recognize the limitations that you operated under, without blaming yourself. May others extend that compassion to themselves, as well.

    • MelandCJ says:

      Thank you for sharing your articulate, well thought out and pain. I am saddened for your loss…nothing prepares you for that. Protect and look after you now. Good things and happy times, Blessings, to you from here

  25. Tamieka says:

    I am in need of guidance on a situation at hand this moment. May I humbly seek your wisdom? 

    For years I have opend my home to family and friends who were in need of shelter and food, some left here in peace, some left here not in peace. I have an extremely hard time saying no to those who reach out to me because of my kindess, loving spirit I have”. I am the oldest of 7 that is trying to help the 7th child. I didnt know that he was hooked on p.c.p and meth till recently in march. Of 2015 I drove for 2 hours from my home in attemp to “save” him when I got a call he (21) attempted suicide. When my brother was living in my home, I was able to get him mental help with medication, take him to councling, during the process, ive lost sleep and became stressed by giving all my time and energy over his paranoia at the same time going to school. One day he left my home to “supposedly” refill his medication, I get a call that he was having an episode, instead of refilling his meds, he purchased marijuana when he was not suppose to as that will make his paranoia worse creating major episodes. During the 2 months he was here, I made sure he did everything he was supposed to do, as well help him get back to his normal weight. The issue I am having now is he left my home 3 weeks ago to return for work, I gave him instructions on all that he needed to keep him on track as far as meditation on the scriptures, prayer, going to councling, and continued taking meds. Since he left, he attempted a 2nd suicide after getting high. And he calls again to come back. At this point, I really dont want him back here because my children of seen these episodes (twice) and have been exposed to these negative images, that I feel I bought upon myself in attemp to help him. He has not done anything to help himself since he left here and I am torn on not allowing him to return for fear of saying no that he will try to hurt himself. People that I help feel that my home is safe heaven. This is stressful and drains my energy as I will have to keep an eye on him 24 hours, the last attemp he dis not wake his girlfriend up, he attemped while she was sleeping and I fear this. I have a teenager and 2 small children. If I allow him to return, he has to quit his job, that will means missed car payments, I am already struggling myself, so how will I be able to care for my brother who refuse to take responsibility for his action? He lives with my mom who is currently taking care of my grandmother so that is stress on her. This feels like a burden, I feel if my brother followed what he was supposed to be doing, he will be okay but because he did not, I am stuck to care for him. I was suppose to move to a great oppertunity and ended up dropping it due to his paranoia over gangs (which he claim he does not gang anymore) I am seeking families who have dealt with this kinda of stuff. It ia a first for myself and my family. He ia extremely depressed. Please help!

  26. Dave27 says:

    I don’t think there is any good evidence that anyone can prevent suicide. The studies are clearly difficult to do, but admission is largely undertaken to protect the health professionals from litigation. A study comparing inpatient and day hospital care showed no differences in suicidal ideation and rates

  27. Anonymous says:

    Or here’s a thought. Stop pretending you care only when we reached the brink.

    It’s plenty of back rubs and jolly goods when they blip about it and it’s often no one caring beforehand that builds to it.

    Your entire list of suggestions is only focused on people who are claiming to be suicidal. There is no hint or speech ever pertaining to how to live with people whom are constantly depressed or may feel life is meaningless (hint: you probably shouldn’t bother). All the prevention focuses on: but … But… I will be sad! You will burden me! Blah blah blah.

    So do humanity a favor and stop pretending to care.

    • Ted says:

      I agree, the only reason people care at that point is so they can play hero.

    • MelandCJ says:

      I’m not here to fight but my hands are tied- I DO live with someone with depression, anger and social issues. It’s so hard and hurtful, he’s hurt me- crushed me so much to the point where I’m suicidal and can’t support him 24/7. I need sleep, I need to look after my child and go to work to pay HIS bills.
      I try my best but I have a child who means the world to me and I just can’t be there 24/7, I get so little sleep that I’ve crashed a car twice, once trying to get him to hospital. I’m dying but I’m supporting him! If I didn’t care I wouldn’t have spent thousands of dollars and all my time on him. Please be careful with what you say to someone who is a carer and IS trying their beat but can barely support them, they need sleep, the abuse I get would make even you feel like nothing can be done. Don’t judges omens who is trying to help, they need to eat, they need sleep, they need to earn money so they CaN help, they need to be careful They don’t end up so depressed themselves they can’t love….they have to Live a life , study or work, function as a person needs to.
      Depression and protection of self can seem selfish, suicidal threats can be selfish- hence I haven’t done it yet.
      If someone says they can’t help, it’s probably the best they can do for someone- so that person learns to help themselves!
      Take care and look after you

  28. Georgia Y says:

    My mother killed herself 5 years ago today a few days before her 60th birthday. Her first attempt was 6 years before I was born when she was 16. She tried to kill herself so many times I always thought that was how her life would end. When she finally succeeded in killing herself I was still shocked and have found it hard to forgive her and myself. Your articles have been incredibly helpful to me – especially the questions you suggest the reader asks themselves. Thank you for publishing these articles. Georgia

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      How sad for you, your mother, and your family. Those feelings of forgiveness are elusive for many survivors of suicide loss, whether forgiveness of oneself, the person who died by suicide, or both.

      I hope you will consider reading the posts “If Only”: Self-Blame After a Loved One’s Suicide and Do You Blame Yourself for Thinking of Suicide? Both posts cast the blame where it ultimately and truly lies – on the forces of suicide themselves, which might be mental illness, substance use, irrational thinking, trauma, impulsivity, or other factors that can fuel suicidal thoughts, desires, and actions.

      Thank you for your feedback. It’s great to know that my site has been helpful to you in some way!

  29. Rethink says:

    I posted here yesterday on an article entitled “Letter from a Therapist to a Suicidal Person” thinking it really needed some improvement and alternative perspective. After reading this article, I feel even stronger that Stacy might be doing more harm that good writing these articles. I doubt these are intentional, but there might be motives and biases behind what is causing these problems…..Ok, WHAT DO I MEAN? Right?
    First, there is this assumption that it is better to talk to someone getting paid to do this rather than getting genuine love and care from people who may actually care about the suicidal person. Honestly, mainstream psychology has convinced everyone that they are always the better option than getting help and love from people who genuinely care…think about that for a minute if you really care about preventing suicide. Do you think there isn’t some level of a person’s consciousness that realizes that the person who is a “professional” isn’t willing to take the time to talk to them unless that professional is going to get paid? Ask yourself realistically: is it possible that maybe the person who is suicidal just isn’t getting what they need from the people who genuinely care about them? Honestly….how is a “professional” who comes up with labels, and drugs going to replace that?!!! Before moving on from this, here is an article that I think everyone visiting this page should look at if you really care about doing all you can to prevent suicide….these professionals aren’t always what they are cracked up to be…… http://www.madinamerica.com/2014/08/alternatives-suicide/
    Another thing this article does is perpetuate a myth and thought pattern that many in the mental health profession have prevaricated with for years; that anyone who is disgusted with life is mentally ill, and incapable of logical thought. At least that is what is implied here: “it can be helpful to really recognize that your loved one has an illness, a genuine and sometimes severe illness, just like cancer or heart disease”….while this might be a popular opinion to many who simply don’t understand those with suicidal thoughts, perhaps it is those people themselves that are in a sort of denial of reality. What if the person with suicidal thoughts are being honest with themselves about limitations? What if those people just need others they are surrounded by to understand them, and to listen to them in an open-minded fashion? When you have “professionals” discrediting anything the person says this way, how will they ever get their voice heard?!! If they can’t be heard, how are the problems that might be causing the suicidal thoughts in the first place ever going to be alleviated? Even in this article, there was no mention of what might have caused that friend to slash her wrists…..if you never treat these people as PEOPLE and not a DISEASE, how can you expect them to feel any sense of hope? Honestly, I would challenge anyone who supports this article to answer these questions. Can you honestly say this approach is treating the person with the respect they might need? Perhaps they need some help, but that doesn’t mean this approach is the help they need.
    Finally, maybe there are things loved ones could have done. Do you honestly believe that if everyone was doing all they could to prevent suicide it would be happening as much? Often times it is things in one’s environment that cause the suicidal person to look at that as an option. Do you honestly think that person has never tried to change themselves to fit into a society? Do you honestly think they haven’t worked on themselves? Sometimes a person needs a little cooperation from their environment, and they simply aren’t getting it. Like it or not, some people have a much easier path through life than others. Is it really that bad to challenge yourself to grow, and accept that pain you feel as a motivation to never let that happen again to others? The danger with this article is it almost says “its ok to keep doing the same things, and move on with out trying to figure out how you can limit what you might be doing to support a suicidal environment”. What do I mean by a “suicidal environment”? I mean behaving in a way that makes a person feel trapped and hopeless. A few examples might be dismissing a person’s needs to see their efforts appreciated like telling them a meal was terrible rather than helping them make a better one….or ignoring a person’s ideas that might help them advance a career… Ask yourself, aren’t there little things you could change about yourself that might enable you to create a more comfortable environment to some of the most vulnerable people you cross paths with?
    In the end, it seems like this article is doing something good by comforting those who have lost a loved one, but is it REALLY preventing suicide, or possibly in danger of contributing to some of the causes of suicide? Ask yourself that if you really care about prevention….I would love to hear anyone who thinks there isn’t truth in this response. I honestly think psychologists are causing as many problems these days as they are solving.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      I appreciate feedback, whether critical or positive, and in that vein I appreciate yours. I am very confused, though, by some of your comments about what I wrote. I simply did not say most of the things that you criticize me for saying or supposedly assuming.

      I do agree with one of your criticisms, which is that I should not convey that everyone who dies by suicide has a mental illness. This was an error on my part. I will change the wording shortly to be clear that most people who die by suicide have a mental illness.

      Thanks for contributing your comments to the site. I always welcome viewpoints that challenge my own. Suicide is a profoundly complex subject. The more people question it, perhaps the closer we will come to answers.

    • Rethink says:

      Thank you for responding Stacy… I hope you will take the following quotes and try and see the parallels between the assumptions I say you made, and some of what you stated above here:
      In your second paragraph you state: “There are many things that loved ones of a suicidal individual can do to help – things like asking directly about suicidal thoughts, fully listening to the person, providing nonjudgmental emotional support, removing firearms and other lethal means from the home, giving a list of resources for help and support, and helping them to get professional help.” Then you state later “If mental health professionals and psychiatric hospitals cannot prevent all suicides, then how can friends and family be expected to do so?” which can easily suggest that the “professional” who gets paid is the best suited to fix the problems…well that isn’t always the case. You did mention other things that could be done, but it is important to note that pros are always the best option. You don’t have to watch a lot of news, TV, or even be out in the public long to see this belief and it is reiterated here.
      I appreciate that you agree that not everyone who commits suicide has an “illness” and it can be important to listen and realize what others might be doing to contribute to the helplessness one may be feeling, or may be failing to do to help them see any genuine reason for hope.
      Just looking at the title of the article, and the visualization attached, it can be easy for people who really DIDN’T do all they could to say, “well, we tried to get them to see a professional; that’s all we could do”. What if there are people who could involve those suicidal in healthy activities like hiking, in a comfortable environment so the person has a chance to clear their head even with a friend they trust? What if a common friend might have a project in a community the suicidal person might benefit from being a part of? Networking can help. Being a friend that listens and carefully connects the suicidal person to good environments might be fruitful! What about not cramming things down your kids throats that might not be beneficial for them?!! Look, about 20 years ago, people crammed the concept of staying in school and going to college down kids throats, over-saturating markets, saddling a generation with debt and taking what was more of a guarantee and turning it into more of a gamble…… many students felt they had to go to school rather than making a solid choice about what was best for them. Many people take on too many challenges and aren’t good parents, or simply move on from those they say they love because a relationship gets a little uncomfortable for a while. There are many suggestions here that there are limitations on those who are supporting friends. I know good people who could do a lot more for me….and I have suggested those things. However, because they are convinced that therapists are the answer to everything, they don’t really want to do what they could, and just pass the buck when things get ugly. Without telling you all about my history, and some of the brainwashing psychotherapists have done on society, I can tell you they have made my issues even worse, and every time I give them a chance, the shrinks seem to fall short of doing what I would honestly need to make life complete. Please, re-read your article, and ask yourself this one question: “Have I really asked people to carefully separate the balance between coping out by passing the buck to others, and honestly doing all they could do?” I don’t see much that guards against people saying “I have done my best” when they might not have. Some have, and honestly couldn’t do more, but if you don’t challenge people to be more sensitive to those who get to this point in life, you aren’t ever going to be more effective. I hope this helps you. I know my opinions aren’t always in the majority, but I have been right many times before when a majority population wasn’t. (school, therapy, etc)

  30. Kelly says:

    Thank you for this.

  31. jennifer says:

    Thank you for this post.

  32. Phyllis Mikity says:

    It is not the thoughts of suicide, it is the act. One may realize that any person cannot change the thoughts of another, but the pain of helplessness is always there.

  33. Gale says:

    So loved these thoughts. I just lost my daughter to suicide 7 weeks ago today. She hung herself in our basement. I was right upstairs and had jut talked with her. She seemed fine. What guilt I feel.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Hello Gale, I am so very sorry to read about your daughter. The loss is so recent and fresh. Guilt is a common emotion following the suicide of a family member or friend. The people close to the person ask themselves all sorts of painful questions. What could I have done to prevent this? Why didn’t I see this coming? Why didn’t she tell me?

      I hope that this post helps you and others to accept that you could not have done everything. You already have to cope with so much in terms of the death of your daughter. Beating yourself up about it only makes it harder. Perhaps you do recognize something that you realistically could have done differently. If so, I hope you will practice forgiveness and compassion for yourself.

      I also hope you are getting the support you need. Have you considered talking with other people who have lost a loved one to suicide? There are many support groups around the country, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has an outreach program where a suicide survivor will come to your house. For more information, please check out Speaking of Suicide’s Resources page, specifically the section for people who have had a loved one die by suicide. You may also find the article Coping with the Suicide of a Loved One to be useful.

      Thanks for writing, Gale, and please feel free to write again and share how you are doing.

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