How To Save A Life

When I lost my boy to suicide I became aware of how little understanding there is of suicidality; even amongst those who work in mental health care. Outdated and unfounded assumptions are pervasive and harmful.

Yet I discovered that people everywhere want to help but have no idea how. So I have been compelled to make this attempt at conceptualising suicidality and suggesting some guiding principles for all of us to follow as we work to ‘suicide proof’ our community.

I don’t presume to have the perfect answer. But I believe it is crucial and urgent that we make a start. So, here goes…

What causes suicidality?

Is it a warped view of the self and loss of perspective?

Is it a thought that becomes cancerous?

Is it a worm that infects and controls the mind?

Is it a rational response to unbearable and seemingly inescapable life experience?

Whatever it is, suicidality can be brazen and obvious, or sneaky and invisible.

It feeds on social rejection, trauma and entrapment.

And it’s kryptonite is compassion.

Suicide is clearly a complex and multifaceted issue. Just as every life is unique, and our experience of life is unique, so are the circumstances leading to suicidal thoughts.

But we are all human and have universal needs for acceptance, peaceful existence, and outlets of contribution. These are needs that cannot be met from ‘within’ so it would be cruel to expect people to address these alone. The whole of community is responsible for providing a safe place to belong and contribute.

What about those who have all that; who have everything going for them, you ask? We cannot truly know other people’s life experience. There is no room for judgement or assumption when it comes to suicide.

But consider this: trauma, including incidents from many years ago and those never disclosed to anyone, can wreak hell within a person, whether they show on the outside or not. Entrapment can be terrifying, whether it’s financial or social or legal, and it’s very hard for others to notice how trapped those around us can feel. And feelings of rejection, even self rejection from not meeting extremely high standards, can be highly subjective.

We cannot help where we reasonably cannot know that help is needed, this is true. And we need not bear unfounded guilt. You cannot save everyone every time, but together we can come very close. We can save most people, most of the time.

You can fulfil your responsibility to help protect others from suicide, regardless of what you know about their state of mind and circumstances. You can do this by taking opportunities to ensure those around you have a sense of worth and dignity, and know that they can call on you when they need help to navigate out of a difficult situation.

Compassion is the key. Find ways to show you care.

You may never know what difference you’re making, but if you act with compassion it will always be positive. Do what you can and be okay with that.


  • Does everyone around you have a sense of worth and belonging? If not, what can you do to address that?
  • Is anyone feeling trapped by their circumstances? If so, can you help them problem solve a way through?
  • Who is hurting? And what can you do to show them you care?
  • Identify the person you would least expect to be at risk of suicide and simply open the invitation to confide by asking “how are you feeling about life?”

*These are early interventions. If someone you know is in a crisis state, you may need to:

  • Simply listen compassionately without judgement or advice and/or;
  • Ask them outright if they are suicidal and find out what you can about their plans and/or;
  • Stay with them and do what you can to keep them safe while getting back-up and attempting to dissuade them and/or;
  • Connect them directly with professional help

If you’re in Australia, the Suicide Callback Service is available 24/7 on 1300 659 467. You may also wish to call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or if there is an imminent situation, 000. If you’re interested in Mental Health first aid courses are available through a number of organisations (check if your local PHN is providing suicide prevention training for free).

Act with love. Strive for peace. Be there to help.

Love, Peace, Help the World. It was #JoshsWish.