How would you talk a stranger off the ledge?

Last month, two peo­ple far at the periph­ery of my so­cial cir­cles have threat­ened suicide. Seems like a sign for me to learn some ledge-fu.

I re­viewed the stuff I’d learned back in high school (“Listen.” “Be sup­port­ive.” “Don’t ar­gue.” “Etc etc etc.”) I have trou­ble be­liev­ing that this would work out­side of movie­land, es­pe­cially on strangers. More so, in per­son I’m an awk­ward, fid­get­ing in­tro­vert—the im­pact of ev­ery­thing I say is thus diminished, and I sound very in­sincere or clini­cal, like I’m fol­low­ing a bad movie script, when I say any­thing like, “You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.” or “How can I best sup­port you right now?” I doubt that this would sound any bet­ter in writ­ing.

I sup­pose I could split my ques­tion into two re­lated ones: what would you say to a per­son threat­en­ing to com­mit suicide, 1. in per­son, and 2. in an email?

I’m look­ing for out-of-the-box ideas that don’t rely on charisma or com­pas­sion shin­ing through. Per­son­ally, if I ever need to talk my­self out of suici­dal thoughts, I ap­ply the “bum com­par­i­son prin­ci­ple”: if my life is so crummy that I’m will­ing to com­mit suicide, then I should be will­ing to just walk out on ev­ery­thing I value and drift off in a ran­dom di­rec­tion, sur­vive by dine-and-dash­ing out of cheap restau­rants and wash dishes if I get caught, maybe take odd jobs or hitch­hike or gather roots and berries or blog from pub­lic libraries. I don’t see this pos­si­bil­ity in a nega­tive light, and yet I still haven’t done it. To me, it means that how­ever bad my life may seem, I’m still too at­tached to it to walk out; there­fore, suicide isn’t on the menu.

Peo­ple have differ­ent rea­sons to want suicide, and I un­der­stand that what works for me with my first world prob­lems prob­a­bly won’t work for a per­son who is in too much phys­i­cal pain from an in­cur­able dis­ease. To the best of my knowl­edge, the two peo­ple I men­tioned ear­lier are both un­skil­led la­bor­ers who had lost their jobs, one of them so long ago that he’s no longer el­i­gible for un­em­ploy­ment benefits. I don’t think I’ll meet these par­tic­u­lar peo­ple again, but I’d ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery­one’s thoughts on what I could’ve said if my brain hadn’t frozen.