Talking to a Person in Crisis

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As a 911 dispatcher my theory on talking to anyone in crisis is simple: if you’re talking, you’re alive.

Keep suicidal callers talking. For that moment you know they are alive. I ask questions in these three areas:

1. Ask for basic information.

  • Where are you?
  • Do you have any weapons? What kind of weapons?
  • Who is with you? Where are they?
  • Have you taken any medications or pills? What have you taken?
  • Have you tried to commit suicide in the past? What means did you use?

2. Probe for information that will help the responding officers and rescue personnel.

  • What does your house look like? What color is it?
  • Are there cars in the driveway?
  • Where are you in the house?
  • Is your front door unlocked?
  • Will you be cooperative when police officers arrive?
  • Where are the weapons in your home?
  • Do you have dogs? Are they friendly?

3. Make conversation.

  • Suicidal callers want to be heard.
  • Listen and respond in a positive manner.
  • Repeat back what the caller says to let them know you are listening. For example, if they say, “I don’t have any friends. No one cares for me.” Then you can say, “I hear you saying that you feel lonely.” Continue in this manner.

Most importantly, keep the caller talking. As long as they are talking, they are hopefully not putting pills in their mouth or a gun to their head. Be empathetic and kind. While it may be one of many calls on your shift, this might be the only call for someone contemplating suicide.

Learn more about suicide by taking a RapidCE course.