Suicide Prevention, Part III: Paying Attention to Another Human Being May Actually be a Form of Suicide Prevention

Suicide is on the rise in the United States, probably due, in no small measure, to the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in a widespread loss of employment, social isolation and alienation, loneliness, a pervasive sense of hopelessness and despair. There is one way, though, which is quite practical and requires no formal education to prevent suicide, namely, caring for another human being.

Viktor Frankl, for example, although he was was a busy psychiatrist, professor and traveled throughout the world, giving lectures on Logotherapy, his life, on one occasion, was interrupted in the early morning hours by a suicidal woman. He recalled the episode,

“I received a telephone call at three in the morning from a lady who told me that she was determined to commit suicide but due to her curiosity wished to hear what I should say. I evolved all the arguments speaking against this resolution and for survival, and I talked to her for thirty minutes — until she finally gave her word that she would not take her life but rather would come to see me in the hospital. But when she visited me there it turned out that no one of all the arguments presented by me had impressed her. The only reason why she had decided not to commit suicide was the fact that, rather than growing angry because of having been disturbed in my sleep in the middle of the night, I had patiently listened to her and talked with her for half an hour, and a world, she found, in which this can happen, must be a world worth living in.”

To take time from one’s busy schedule to care about another human being, be it ever so briefly, means, in effect, “I notice you, recognizing you as a person.” To listen to someone express his or her feelings and concerns is to validate him or her, saying, in effect, “You matter or have value to me.” Such a response gives the other person the impression that he or she is somebody, someone, a worthwhile individual. Caring, then, for another human being, paying attention to him or her, focusing on his or her life, moving into his or her “world,” literally has the power to prevent suicide.

Arguments against suicide, although they may be impressive logically, are not always convincing to a suicidal person. The reason is that data, facts alone, only appeal to a person’s intellect, head. Arguments are often detached, dispassionate, impersonal. That is why, on a profound level, they do not really “touch” someone who is emotionally hurting. They need to be supplemented, “backed up,” by a person’s life; a life that genuinely feels for and is concerned about another human being’s problems. That personal quality is called “empathy.” Thus, the saying is true:

“People don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

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