What do you say when a friend texts you late at night, "I want to die." ?
You ask, "Do you really want to die? Should I be concerned?"
"Of course I do. My life is f*cked up"
This conversation continues. You ask several times, "Do you plan on harming yourself? If so, how do you plan on doing it?"
Followed up with, "Do you plan to be alive tomorrow?"
He responds with vague answers; not truly answering, or just changing the topic altogether. He seems serious.
You put aside the books you were studying. You minimize the document you were just working on titled, "What is a counselor?" and you open a webpage with a list of suicide hotlines.
This means you have put aside your education, your future career and livelihood to help someone. Not a client or a patient, possibly not even someone you consider a friend. Many professionals in the mental health field would say that it is not your job. That the person should contact someone and you should focus on your own stuff. However, that wouldn't be their advice if the person texting you were willing to pay, would it? Of course, if you don't have a license, that would be illegal... but you're getting off topic. Point being- what do you do? No compassionate and decent human being would just go back to their schoolwork after hearing something like that.
This is the sort of conflict anyone with empathy and patience has encountered. No doubt, the older one gets, the more calls of desperation you are likely to receive. And the answer only lies in the person in the moment facing the situation. There is no wrong answer (between speaking to them or pawning them off to someone else), from a professional and ethical aspect, this is entirely subjective. It depends on how capable you view yourself to be, what you believe your role is in this person's life, and how you think you will respond in the worst case scenario. If things go downhill, there is no good solution or outcome. Most people in this position will find a way to blame themselves, no matter how much time and effort they devoted to the person at risk, or how many resources they recommended. On the other hand, if things turn out being okay, you need to learn to take credit. Not necessarily dancing around singing, "I saved a life! I am the best person who has ever lived!!" but... just taking a moment to recognize the good deed, the skills you have, and an appreciation for yourself. This is the part most people forget to celebrate. Saving a life is not minor feat. Many (if not all) of the biggest names in the mental health field have experienced losing a patient or client. Win or lose, it will be traumatic. So, no matter what the outcome, self-care and even therapy may be necessary.
Of course, sometimes you may also get impatient with the people you are dealing with. Oftentimes, self-harming people will ask for advice, then tell you everything you advise is stupid and wrong. This can be so, so very frustrating. Or they make the horrible statement, "I have the hardest life ever." Pretty sure you're not from Sudan or Syria, dude! Keep in mind, however, that to them, their life is THEIR hardest life ever. This makes it a lot easier to empathize. It's no competition, but everyone who is hurting is looking for a reason. An explanation for the bad things and the pain, even if there is nothing there to blame. Sometimes you just have to tell them, "Yep. Life is hard."
Validation is way more comforting than hearing, "No! Life is good! Stop being sad, chum!" I can say from firsthand experience that when you're bummed out, being told you're wrong and that everything is sunshine and lollipops, you just want to stab yourself (and the other person) in the vulva and watch the knife come out through the larynx. Positivity is not always the answer. While hope for the future is nice, it's not always realistic. Feeling understood and less alone is the goal. Of course, maybe don't convince them that there is absolutely no reason to hold on and they'll only become more miserable throughout life. That might not be the way to go, either. Let's aim for a healthy middle, shall we? Life is awful, but we're all miserable together. So, we aim to enrich other people's lives and we try to make our own lives as decent as possible. Being dead is super boring, anyway. If nothing or no one else, you, you who is giving them your love and care, you'll be there and you want Mr. Sadface dude or lady to improve your life. You probably benefit from this person being alive in some way (accept it- we're all selfish jerks), so let them know that. Maybe they're working on a project that you want to see completed, or they owe you money (but they have all the time they need to pay you back) or... whatever. If it's someone you've yet to meet in person, all the better! Try, "My goal right now is go to _____ with you!"
Keeping someone alive is NOT easy. Keeping them from harming themselves is an exhausting, long-term process. So, I think common sense is key. Whether you're up for the task or not is the first step. Don't take it on because it's the "right thing to do" or it's a new challenge. That's stupid. Don't be stupid. If you KNOW you can handle it on all levels, and the person at risk refuses to contact anyone else, then giving it your all is worthwhile. Of course, there should still be 911 on the other line. It shouldn't be all on you, anyway. Don't tell the whole neighbourhood and have a suicide block party... no. That might be fun, but probably not helpful. Just contact a close friend or family member (of yours AND of Mr. Sadface) and see what wisdom they can offer or if there's anyone they think you should talk to that may help. Again, that's if Mr. Sadface won't contact a hotline or anyone. A professional is ideal. You may feel like you're betraying this person's trust or they may get angry at you, but... get over it. Priorities. His/her life or his/her trust?
So... that's all my suicidey advice for today! I hope you don't run into a situation like this anytime soon, but now you're fairly prepared if so.