A P.L.A.N. to Engage a Suicidal Person Wisely

Tim AllchinFor Those Giving Help2 Comments

If someone trusts you enough to reach out for help, or you pick up on something that concerns you and makes you wonder if another person has intentions of suicide, what do you do next?  It feels like a great weight of responsibility and it is.  We use a simple acrostic when training churches on how to engage those with suicidal intentions or thoughts. Having a PLAN to deal with suicidal intentions and thoughts saves lives and organizes your efforts.

Pursue

Biblical Counselors start our pursuit of a hurting person with prayer that God would give us wisdom and a heart of compassion to engage with wisdom . If you see something, say something. Suicide is generally contemplated over time and there are warning signs. [1] Some individuals struggling with suicidal thinking are quite open about it, others keep it mostly hidden but almost always there are signs. Because we believe in a God who values life, we honor God by pursuing those who are teetering on the edge of life and death.

A Biblical pursuit recognizes God's heart regarding suicide:
  • We are image bearers for God. (Gen 1:27; Jas 3:9)
  • We are to honor the temple of the Holy Spirit. (1Cor 6:19)
  • Murder is condemned in Scripture. (sixth Commandment)
  • God is sovereign over all life and can be trusted. (Job 1:21)
  • Suicidal intent is not the "unforgivable" sin nor does it send someone directly to hell.
  • No human being can prevent suicide because of the free will of man to make such a choice.

Listen

More than almost anything you do to help a person struggling with suicidal thoughts, take the time to listen to their story and pay attention to their disappointments with a caring ear. Whether or not you know how to guide them to overcome their disappointments, to be listened to is to feel loved. Help them to understand how the Gospel addresses the deepest longings of their heart, and assure them that God’s Word does give us guidance to address their disappointment and the ability to find hope.

Listen for the warning signs:

  • Talk of suicide in general
  • Specific verbal statements such as, "I wish I had never been born."
  • Preoccupation with death, terminal illness, graveyards, wills, burial plots etc.
  • Giving away of valuable possessions, i.e. pets
  • Planning for the care of dependents
  • Change in eating, sleeping, or grooming habits
  • Sudden state of euphoria following a long depression: "calm before the storm"
  • Withdrawing from others or from favorite activities
  • A lack of fear of death, taking risks
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Action Plan

  • Assess the Risk - When working with a suicidal person, you can help them assess the risks in their life and take steps to avoid them.[2] In our resource center is a safety check-list that many professional counselors use to assess the risk level.
  • Ask for Promise – In formal counseling , no-harm contracts can be helpful tools. A sample contract is provided in our resource center. Help them develop a specific plan to reach out if they are feeling overwhelmed with despair. If someone will not agree not to harm themselves or doesn’t seem in the right frame of mind to make this promise, call 911 and get civil authorities involved.
  • Agree to a Check-In Plan – Daily check-ins are needed to ensure they know they will have someone to talk with. At least some of the visits should be face-to-face.   A suicidal person likely lacks the motivation to seek helpful accountability.
  • Arrange for Further Help – If they aren’t under the care of a doctor or  counselor, connect them and offer to go with. Reach out to a pastor who can follow up with them.  Help them talk with family if they can be a source of strength. If they aren’t connected with a church, pick them up. A recent study found that suicide risk decreases 400% for those who attend church just once a month.
  • Accountability to follow through - Once the immediate crisis seems over, it is easy to move on, but suicidal thoughts tend to be cyclical and the patterns of thinking aren't easily changed.  You will need to hold them accountable to follow through with what they have agreed to.  Simply living according to their feelings will be disastrous ultimately.

Next Steps

Suicidal thoughts and desires need to be examined in light of who God is and his purposes for us in this life. Obviously, those who follow Christ will view these next steps differently than those who do not. For our Biblical counselors, we are not content with simply creating "better functioning rebels" who no longer deal with suicidal thoughts. Undoubtedly, it is a loving act of mercy to help save the life of a suicidal person, and that pleases God even if the following spiritual conversations never take place.  However, we pursue these conversations in love because they ultimately help the suicidal person embrace what is good and best for their life, and can bring hope and peace to them in abundant measure. You must be patient to do ministry like Christ did and build a relationship where you can talk through these type of issues.

Next Step Spiritual Conversations:
  • Do not attempt to manipulate through shame. Look for long-term solutions, not just temporary ones. (1Cor 4:14).
  • Be clear to determine if they are actually saved and provide hope through evangelism if they do not know the Lord’s forgiveness of sins. (Pro 28:13, Rom15:4).
  • Schedule twice-weekly face-to-face visits until they have stabilized, and daily check-ins.
  • Over time, examine any "Idols of the Heart" that have led to their unmanageable disappointments, resulting in depression and hopelessness.
  • Help them to isolate their perceived unmet needs (Ask: Life without _________ is not worth living because______?) and counsel that issue from God's perspective.
  • Lead the person through a practical plan of action to solve what to them seems unsolvable, introducing new solutions to the problem. (1Cor 10:13).
  • Uncover and help replace non-Biblical thought patterns through journaling homework (find out what is blocking their problem solving).
  • Determine destructive influences, i.e., music, friends, reading materials, etc. (Ps. 1, 1Cor 15:33)
  • Counsel the rebellious nature of suicidal intent – suicide is the ultimate act of autonomy and selfishness. (Pro 14:12, 2 Tim 3:1-2)
  • Teach suffering as a part of God's will to refine us in Christ. (Job 23:10, Rom 8:28,29)
  • Seek to redirect their focus from escape to contentment. (Php 4:11-13).
  • Provide ongoing encouragement and support through local church ministry opportunities, for them to serve and to be served. (Gal 6:1; Eph 4:11-15).

 Deuteronomy 30:15-20

[15] “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. [16] If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. [17] But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, [18] I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. [19] I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, [20] loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days (Deut. 30:15–20 ESV)

If you need immediate help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 800-273-8255., or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
[1] https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/how-we-can-all-prevent-suicide/
[2] https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Brown_StanleySafetyPlanTemplate1.pdf
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