The Power of a Hopeful Response to Suicidal Ideation

When someone we’re working with shares that they are contemplating suicide, it is important that we choose hope-based rather than fear-based responses. When we respond from fear, we react based on what we’re afraid might happen or what we think might be wrong. When we respond from hope, we respond based on what we believe is possible and with hope for co-creating something new.

The following chart is shared from Shery Mead’s Intentional Peer Support work and highlights the difference between a Hope Response (what we refer to above as a hopeful response) and a Fear Response (fear-based response) when supporting someone who expresses suicidal ideation:

Hope Response Fear Response
Sitting with the discomfort of the situation Trying to calm things down: stabilization
Staying connected to the person Taking care of, helper/helpee
Unpredictability = Possibility Predictability: things go back to the way they were.

Some Things to Remember

When supporting someone who is contemplating suicide, keep the following in mind:

  • Remind them that they are not alone
  • Express your care and concern for them–however, don’t say anything you don’t mean, as that could be triggering
  • Ask them about people they care about
  • Practice empathy, but don’t say anything like “I know exactly how you feel.” You don’t know exactly how they feel, even though you may have experiences something similar
  • If you have felt similar things you can say, “I’ve struggled with thoughts of wanting to escape or die too.” This might help them to feel less alone. However, be cautious to not make the conversation all about you. Stay focused on them.
  • If you haven’t experienced thoughts of suicide, consider saying something like, “I can sense how desperate you are from your voice. I want you to know that I care, and I am here for you.”
  • Don’t try to fix their problems–just listen
  • Be aware of your judgements and your worldview, practice putting your judgements aside
  • When the person is safe and you are able to leave, seek support for yourself. Speak to your supervisor or a counsellor at your school about your feelings. It is very important that you debrief with someone for your own well-being.


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Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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