3 Questions for Threats of Suicide

If a person kills himself, will he go to hell?”  This was a phone call from a person I didn’t know.  My question:  “Why do you ask?”.  The man answered, “If you can’t talk me out of it, that’s what I’m going to do when I hang up the phone.”

What do you do when you are talking with a person, face to face or on the phone, and he (or she) indicates or hints that he is going to commit suicide?

I was thankful that years before, Jimmy Kennedy from Piedmont, Alabama, gave a suggestion in a workshop that has been very valuable to me.  He told us three questions to ask.  If you get the answers to all three, you need to do an intervention.  Often a person is only considering suicide as an option to deal with stress in his life.  However, if a person replies to all three questions with definite answers, he is probably seriously thinking of killing himself.

The three questions:

1. Why are you thinking of killing yourself?  This gives the person permission to tell you their problems and frustrations.  It usually takes a long time to listen to the answer to this question.

2. How would you kill yourself?  Do they plan to use a gun?  Do they have one?  Is it close by?  Have they already loaded it?  Do they plan to overdose?  Is the medicine available?

3. When do you plan to do it?  I have found that most people have not determined the time.  They are only considering it.  One time I had a man tell me that he was going to shoot himself and that he would do it as soon as he finished the call with me.  I had the secretary call the police to go to his home.

In my years of ministry since 1961, I have only had two people to answer all three questions.  We were able to get someone to contact them and talk further with them and they did not kill themselves.

When I have talked with a person about their thoughts of suicide, I get a suicide contract.  I ask them to promise me that if they think about killing themselves, they will call me and talk with me about it before they do it.  I discuss the details:   “That means if I am flying you will have to wait until I land and we will talk about it.  If I am not home or in the office, my wife or secretary will tell you how to get in touch with me and we will talk.”  I go over the details and communicate that I am serious about the promise.  When they leave that discussion, I remind them of the agreement we have.

Other questions that I have found helpful if I know the person and they have reason to believe that I care about him:
1. Who do you want to preach your funeral?
2. What do you want me to say?
3. How should I explain this to your wife, children, mother, father, and friends?

By engaging the person in a conversation, the person will often consider the consequences of this choice and decide against it.  There should be serious thought and consideration about not only what will happen to the person who does this to themselves, but also what this act will do to the people left behind.

Often when we are comfortable about being uncomfortable in discussing this powerful subject, we can help someone make a good decision.

What are some ways you have dealt with difficult topics?

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4 thoughts on “3 Questions for Threats of Suicide

  1. This is really good practical information Jerry thank you. I especially liked the 3 questions toward the end. I am sure that would really make them think about the finality and ramifications of the decision. Thanks again and keep it up !!

    • Thank you Dave for the encouragement. You are right. When I have talked to people that I know, they can see how this will affect others. Sometimes people think that removing themselves will help their family. I relate to them from personal experience that is not true.

  2. Thanks, Jerrie. Practical, insightful, and thoughtful, as always. Your two posts on suicide are top notch. I’m not sure you shouldn’t expand these and publish a small book about the same for our brotherhood. It would be invaluable, especially for those who attempt to lead and offer spiritual counsel to others. Thank you again.