Suicide rescue ends in tragedy: How to help friends in crisis

Not all tragedies can be prevented, but seeking emergency professional help and talking non-judgmentally to a friend who is suicidal may help save his or her life.

Jennifer Sinco Kelleher/AP
The Hale Wainani dormitory is seen at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu on Monday. Two men fell from the 14th floor of the University of Hawaii dormitory, one of them to his death while trying to pull the other from a ledge, Honolulu police said. The 24-year-old man who died was trying to bring inside an apparently distraught 19-year-old who went out a window onto the ledge early Sunday, authorities said.

Two men fell out a 14th-story window in a University of Hawaii dormitory early Sunday morning, Honolulu police said.

A 24-year-old man was reportedly trying to pull a 19-year-old down from the ledge when both men fell out. The older one was pronounced dead at a hospital, and as of Monday the teen was still in critical condition.

University of Hawaii spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said neither man was a student at the school, but were in the dorm because a student who lived there had invited people over.

"It's a terrible tragedy – the last thing we want to happen ... whether they are students or not," Mr. Meisenzahl said. "Of course, our condolences go out to their friends and family."

Intervening in a suicide attempt clearly can be dangerous for both parties, but experts recommend remaining calm, since “any intense or negative emotional reaction from a family member or friend can exacerbate [the suicidal person’s] fragility.”

Calling 911 and engaging the person by asking non-judgmental questions or validating their feelings by saying something like, “It sounds as if that was a very difficult experience for you” can also be helpful.

Ultimately, though, experts also warn against taking on too much of another’s burden by oneself – self-blame for another’s suicide attempt, whether or not it is successful, is common, as is feeling the need to keep a loved one’s thoughts or plans secret. If a loved one is contemplating suicide, one should not “be sworn to secrecy,” or feel responsible for the person’s actions.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, some observable warning signs that someone may be thinking about suicide are isolating oneself from family and friends or reaching out to say goodbye include, increased use of drugs or alcohol, reckless behavior, aggression, talk of hopelessness, or voicing the intent to take one’s own life or making specific plans.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will connect you with a trained counselor at a crisis center near you at any hour of any day, and can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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