New Hope for the Suicidal

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It's 4:30 am. Most people are still curled up under the covers sleeping. Eileen, a New Hope Crisis Counseling volunteer is sitting by the phone in the Tower of Hope at the Crystal Cathedral available to help anyone who calls in. The phone rings…

"Good morning this is New Hope and my name is Eileen. How may I help you?" "This is Wayne. I-I-I-I'm sitting here with a gun in my lap." "You have a gun Wayne?" "Yes. I have a gun, and, ah I want to know what God will think if I use it one myself." "Wait a minute Wayne, I want to hear what's going on with you. First, will you set the gun down and put it away in a safe place?" "Okay." "Tell me what's upsetting you." "I want to go to be with my grandparents in heaven…." "It sounds like you were close to them and you miss them terribly." "Yeah. The gun is my grandfather's. He used to take his life after the stock market crashed. Then my grandmother used it to take her life. Now I want to use it to end my life. My boys will be better off without me…." "Oh, I see. I hear you don't want to go on any longer, it feels too hard. But let's talk about your boys. They need you as much as you needed your grandparents. Isn't it possible, just possible, that you can somehow get through this awful time with God's help and show the boys an example of how a man finds inner strength during the hard times in life?" "I wish I could do that for them…." "I can tell that you really love your boys. They need you so much. I know that with God's help you can be the father you want to be. Would you like to pray with me about this?" "Yes." "Dear Lord, Wayne needs your help. I thank you that you're holding him up in this tough time - right now…." "Thank you. I think I can make it into work this morning." "That'd be good. And please call back to New Hope after you get off work. Let us know how you're doing. I care! We care!" "Thanks Eileen. I will call back tonight." "Thanks for calling New Hope Wayne. God loves you and so do we."

Wayne found New Hope and chose life. His story, is all too common. In the United States alone, 82 people a day commit suicide. If it weren't for New Hope it might be 83 people a day. Most every day someone who is suicidal finds New Hope for living by contacting (714) NEW-HOPE or

New Hope has been answering the calls of people in despair since September 15th, 1968 when Dr. Robert and Arvella Schuller started the New Hope Telephone Counseling Center to be "A light that never goes out, an eye that is never closed, and ear that is never shut, a heart that never grows cold." The light has never gone out since. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, New Hope volunteers at the Crystal Cathedral are compelled by the love of Jesus to help prevent suicides and to care for hurting people.

How do we do it? How do New Hope volunteers help the suicidal chose life? It's a lot easier than you think. As our Pastor Jim Kok says, "90% of helping is just showing up." Even if you're not a trained crisis counselor you too can give New Hope to those who want to end their lives, here's how:

Know the Facts of Suicide

  1. Suicide can be prevented. Most suicidal people desperately want to live, but in the moment of crisis they are unable to see alternatives to their problems.
  2. Before someone attempts suicide they usually give warning of their intentions.
  3. Talking about suicide does not cause someone to be suicidal.
  4. Firearms are the most common means of suicide.
  5. Each suicide traumatizes an average of six loved ones and leaves them a horribly negative legacy.

Know the Groups at Risk of Suicide

  1. Surviving family and friends of suicide victims.
  2. Those who have been divorced or widowed.
  3. The elderly, two-thirds of which were in relatively good health. (Contrary to popular opinion only 2-4% of suicide victims have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.)
  4. People who are socially isolated.
  5. Those with mental health diagnoses of depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or panic disorder.
  6. Men are over three times more likely than women to commit suicide. (Women are over three times more likely to attempt.)
  7. Whites are twice as likely as non-whites to commit suicide.
  8. Youth (15-24 years of age) are 200% more likely to commit suicide today than in the 1950's. (1 out of every 100 to 200 young people attempt.)

Know the Warning Signs of Suicide

  1. References to giving up, not wanting to live, or committing suicide.
  2. Previous suicide attempts.
  3. Withdrawal from family, friends, and social activities.
  4. Loss of interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
  5. Preparation for death by making out a will and final arrangements.
  6. Giving away prized possessions.
  7. Have had a recent severe loss (e.g., loved one, job, financial, health, pet).
  8. Preoccupied with death and dying.
  9. Have trouble eating or sleeping.
  10. Drastic changes in behavior.
  11. Loss of interest in personal appearance.
  12. Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
  13. Taking unnecessary risks.

Know What Suicidal People Feel

  1. Can't stop the pain.
  2. Can't make the sadness go away.
  3. Can't get out of depression.
  4. Can't see themselves as worthwhile.
  5. Can't think clearly.
  6. Can't make decisions.
  7. Can't sleep, eat, or work.
  8. Can't get someone's attention.
  9. Can't see any way out other than suicide.

Know the Downward Spiral of Negative Self-Talk

  1. "You're incompetent (or unattractive, or too shy)."
  2. "Don't apply for that job, you'll never get it." (Or, "Don't try to befriend her she doesn't care about you.)"
  3. "That's a lousy company. (Or, "You know you can't trust women.")
  4. "Just be by yourself. Who'd want to be with someone as miserable as you?"
  5. "You idiot! You creep! You're worthless!"
  6. "Go ahead and drink, you'll be more relaxed."
  7. "See how bad you make your family feel. They'd be better off without you."
  8. "What's the use? Your work (or marriage) doesn't matter. Why try?"
  9. "Why don't you just drive across the center divider?"
  10. Calm, rationale, obsessive thoughts like, "Get some pills. Go to a hotel…."
  11. "You've thought about this long enough. Just get it over with. It's the only way out!"

Know How to Give New Hope to the Suicidal

  1. Relax! Stay calm! You can help.
  2. Establish rapport. (E.g., "You sound like you're in a lot of pain. I'm concerned for you.")
  3. Assess the suicide risk. Ask if he or she is thinking about suicide, has a plan of how to do it, has the means to do it, has attempted before, has family or friends who have committed suicide, etc. (Some people mistakenly think that you shouldn't ask, lest you provoke an attempt. This is wrong. You should always ask.)
  4. Diffuse the emotional crisis with empathy. Draw out and actively listen to his or her feelings and reflect back what you're hearing to demonstrate your care and to build a connection. (Don't give advice. Don't ask why. Don't act shocked. Don't be sworn to secrecy. Don't dare him or her to do it.)
  5. Reinforce reasons to live. Remind him or her of particular loved one's who care for or who need care from the suicidal person. Focus on positive activities or opportunities that he or she might look forward to. Remind him or her that things will look differently and seem more manageable tomorrow.
  6. Set a contract. Have the suicidal person commit to checking in soon with you or someone else who cares like a doctor, therapist, pastor, family member, friend, or a crisis hotline like New Hope.

Remember, anytime you or someone you're concerned for can call for help by dialing (714) NEW-HOPE or For more information on helping the suicidal (and survivors of suicide) contact the American Association of Suicidology at (202) 237-2280 or Or read, Suicide and the Inner Voice by Dr. Lisa Firestone. The information in this article represents how we train New Hope volunteers to prevent suicides. Portions of this article are edited versions of information provided by the American Association of Suicidology and Dr, Lisa Firestone.

By Dr. Bill Gaultiere

© 2001 Used by permission.