Mental & Emotional Health

The Simple Words that Can Save Suicidal People

Most of us are likely to know or love somebody who has been affected by suicide.

Statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show how common this disturbing phenomenon is.

  • Nearly 45,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2016.
  • Suicide rates have gone up more than 30 percent in half of the states in the U.S. since 1999.
  • Suicide rates increased in nearly every state from 1999 through 2016.
  • More than half of the people who died by suicide (54 percent) did not have a known mental health problem.

It’s a common misconception that depression is the culprit. While depression is a contributor, it’s not the main reason that many people kill themselves. The real reason is what I call “des-pair.”

That’s right, des-pair, not despair. It’s a feeling of being “unpaired” with the reasons a person wants to live. Take a look at these examples:

  1. Hopelessness — Unpaired with a worthwhile future because all efforts to lessen pain (medications, therapy, etc.) have not worked
  2. Helpless and Powerless — Unpaired with the ability to pull themselves out of it
  3. Useless— Unpaired with any solution or treatment that works, or alternatively feeling that they don’t contribute anything to anyone and are only a burden (even if people they know protest the opposite)
  4. Worthless — Unpaired with one of the key reasons we exist
  5. Purposeless — Unpaired with a focused mission that gives a source of pride. Without it, one can feel aimless and ashamed, as in, “My life has no purpose.”
  6. Pointless — Unpaired with any reason not to pull the trigger, put the noose around the neck, jump from that building, take those pills, step onto those train tracks

Give a person the chance they need to feel less alone.

But when you engage someone about any of the “lesses,” it can lead to a more dynamic, engaging, and expressive conversation. When that occurs, and the des-pairing person begins to express and describe what any of those words mean to them, they will begin to experience those feelings versus experiencing nothing and feel relief as they ‘pair’ with the empathic person who is listening to them.


If you believe a loved one is in an acute suicidal crisis, get help immediately by calling 911.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24/7 by calling 1-800-273-TALK or visiting their website. And if someone you love is struggling more and more with the “lesses” mentioned above, reach out to them now. I recommend using “interventional empathy” to lessen their des-pair and prevent destructive behavior.

Here’s how to practice interventional empathy and pair with your suffering loved one by using seven simple words:

  1. When someone you know is in a very dark place—or if it’s you, you can speak to someone about it or journal about it—and after you have been speaking to them enough to make a connection say, “Seven words.” This causes them to stop and be temporarily confused—which will temporarily break their hold on feeling suicidal—and they will often respond with, “What?”
  2. Then say, “Seven words. Hurt, afraid, angry, ashamed, alone, lonely, tired. Pick one and start telling me about it.” Presenting the seven words in such an assertive manner will often cause people to spontaneously begin expressing those feelings, feeling less alone, crying, feeling relief and becoming more open to a conversation that may cause them to consider other options.

In an age where suicide is becoming more and more commonplace, we have a chance to stop des-pair in its tracks before a person becomes suicidal. Say the seven words to someone who is in the depths of suffering. Give them the chance they need to feel less alone and reclaim the hope they have lost. Your empathy costs you nothing, but it could end up saving a life.

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