The skill of listening is so simple, yet so hard to execute.
Sitting on the only chair in my rented bedroom, my eyes stayed fixed on the bride’s bikini tanned lines. Photoshop on my tablet and Wacom pen in my grip, I felt invisible. Suddenly, my phone rang…
Me: Hello? *still wondering who would call me at this time*
She: Hey, remember me? I’m your sister’s high school friend. I just talked to her and I think she may be suicidal. *almost shouted*
Me: Wait, what? *panic in my voice*
She: Please don’t tell your parents. I don’t think she’d want your parents to know. I’ve tried to calm her down and she sounded better on the phone, but I thought I should tell you at least.
After thanking her for the call, I sat in silence with a pounding heart.
A million thoughts raced in my head, threatening to explode the skull.
One question seemed to reach the finish line after the panic settled.
“What should I do?”
Again, I was in a chair, but I was no longer in that dingy bedroom. In front of 12 audiences sat in half-circle, I turned to face my partner, who was role-playing as a university student crying about an accidental pregnancy…
She: My parents would kill me if they knew. There’s no options for me. *head buried sobbing*
Me: I see that you are afraid. It must be terrifying to go through this. *recounting my training earlier*
She: You have no idea. I’m so scared. I can’t do this anymore. I need to end this.
Me: Please talk to me. I’m listening. You’d like to end what? *arm around her shoulders*
She: No, nothing… just I have to end this. It’s too much.
Me: Are you thinking about suicide?
- Ask the suicide question directly.
- This signals trust. You can handle their darkest thought.
- Ask thoughtful questions and listen.
- This signals curiosity. You care about them and are interested in listening to their stories..
- Show empathy.
- This signals understanding. You are willing to put yourself in their shoes to feel how they feel.
She: Maybe… yes… *shoulders shaking*
Me: Have you thought of a plan yet?
She: Umm… I have sleeping pills. *stopped sobbing*
Me: Can you tell me where they are so I can keep you safe?
She: In our bathroom mirror cabinet… *hugged me tight*
- Ask questions to keep them safe.
- What’s keeping you alive? Your children? Your cat?
- Why haven’t you done it yet? Fear of the pain?
- Have you come up with a plan yet? Pills? Ropes? And where are they?
- Take away their means.
- Tell them you care and would not wish them to hurt themselves.
- Put them in contact with professional support.
- Look up local help groups and make sure the person at risk contacts them personally