How to talk to someone who is suicidal…or having a panic attack… or just really upset?

Talking to someone who is having a meltdown can be very hard on you.  It may feel like there is a hurricane going through the room – and you can’t hear anything – let alone see the forest through the trees to find a resolution.  In my opinion, calming the water and helping to ground that person is beneficial to all.

When someone is emotionally dis-regulated, they are on edge – their system is ready to fight – flight – freeze- or disconnect – to protect themselves from whatever they feel is threatening them.  In their opinion, their situation it is real…to an outsider, it may be hard to empathize because the outsider is dealing with their own stuff!  For instance, for a parent, who is tired after a long day at work, to be patient with their six year old, who can’t find their stuffy and won’t go to bed;  Or to a business person who needs a document to close a deal but their co-worker, who was supposed to finish the document, is dealing with the loss of his wife – or myself who was trying to make it though my third year of teaching with every course possible on my timetable – I’m was just trying to figure out what to teach, let alone support by suicidal brother! So to think that each of these people will have the patience to sit calmly and listen to what the emotionally dis-regulated person is going through, may be quite difficult.  We all have our own stories and we are all just trying to get through the day…

Today I have come to believe that it is important to be regulated ourselves not only to be present to enjoy our own lives but also so we can navigate around any emotionally dis-regulated people throughout our day.  So the big question is: how do you cope in a situation where your child is having a meltdown; your co-worker is holding you up; or your brother is expressing suicidal thoughts?!  Press the pause button and ground!  Here are some ideas…for you and anyone else who is emotionally spilling over…

Only have two minutes?:

  • Just breath: count your breath in and out so they are the same: 4 in, 4 out, etc
  • Open a window, enjoy the scenery, and breathe in the fresh air
  • Go the bathroom and splash water on your face.
  • Put some essential oil on a kleenex and breathe in deeply
  • Stretch

What if the person can’t calm down?

  • Get them to use their five senses to re-orient their body to the present situation, instead of what is going on in their head and their body. For instance, touch the carpet and describe how it feels on their feet; direct their attention to a picture on the wall and have them describe the colours and shapes; breathe in something that smells – like essential oil, or a cup of coffee; put a candy in their mouth and describe what it feels and tastes like; describe what their body feels like while sitting in the chair or standing on the ground; ask them to describe the sound they hear in the room – if there isn’t a sound – hum a tune, put on a song using your phone, etc;
  • Ask or remind them of a time recently when they were happy or relaxed (unrelated to the current situation).  Then have them describe the situation as if they had taken a picture or made a movie or if they teleported you into the situation.  Have them describe the situation using their senses – what did they see – colours, shapes; what did they hear – the leaves being crunched under their shoes; what did they smell – the musty leaves; what did they feel with their fingers or skin; what did they taste – was it sweet or sour, etc
  • As them a thinking question (unrelated to the current situation) – which gets them out of their emotional brain and into their thinking brain – like when did you last fill your car with gas, when did you last eat, what did you eat, how did you get to work/school today, what colour is that sign over there, how many branches are on that tree, etc
  • Listen to a song together that they like and sing or dance to the music
  • Get them to stand up (if they are able) and move by touching their opposite hand to their opposite knee, do jumping jacks, do a sun salutation, stretch, touch their toes, etc
  • Read a favourite book
  • Draw a picture or colour
  • Get out of the situation
    • go outside and take a walk – describing all of their senses
    • have a cold shower
    • play a game of cards
    • go to the gym
    • go for a bike ride or a run
    • go into the kitchen and make some food
    • get in the car and go for a drive – noting the scenery
    • snuggle a pet and note the texture, sounds, and smells!

Use an app to guide you:

When the two of you are in a grounded space, then the hard conversation can take place.  I know that if someone tries to talk to me and I’m not grounded, it isn’t good.  I can be *itchy, critical, judgemental, impatient, argumentative, interrogative – not very supportive.  Or I can not be in tune at all.  I remember a weekend where I knew that I should check in on Brad but I didn’t…I just sat in front of the TV and numbed out.  I had my own stuff going on and I just didn’t have the capacity –  emotionally, physically – to be with him.  Or when we were having conversations, I don’t think I could really take in the gravity of what he was saying because I wasn’t in the right space to hear it.  I’m not sure if you have noticed if someone is tired and yawns around you, then you yawn; or if someone is laughing hysterically, then you start to laugh; or if someone is losing their mind and yelling at you, then you start to get angry.  Our neurons – which make up our nervous system which is responsible for regulating our emotions – are like mirrors (they are actually called mirror neurons).  We reflect the feelings of others that are in our environment.  So if someone is anxious, angry, suicidal, depressed, etc…then it triggers us – biologically!  Thus being grounded before you walk into a situation, throughout the situation, and after, is really important.

It is understandable that people avoid these difficult situations.  However, when I am upset, I am worth it for someone to listen to me – as is the six year old, the co-worker, and my brother.  We are all worth it for someone to take the time to ground themselves, so they have the capacity to:

  • help guide us to settle our bodies with the above grounding exercises,
  • listen patiently,
  • acknowledge our feelings,
  • ask questions to learn more about our situation,
  • summarize to show they understand,
  • and express empathy.

For more information about how to and how not to talk to someone who is suicidal, please read this pamphlet from Mental Health First Aid International.

Sending calming energy your way,






Please note:
The information contained in this blog is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or substituted for professional diagnosis and treatment. Please consult your health care provider or local hospital before making any decisions. Journey with Julie expressly disclaims responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury, or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of reading the information contained in this site.


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