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What to do When a Member Speaks of Suicide or a Criminal Act

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The comments below were given by various members of the Conference Steps, Traditions, and Concepts Committee and do not represent a group conscience of the entire committee. The opinions expressed here are solely that of the person giving them. Take what you like and leave the rest.

The Question

The Question:
Is there anywhere that suggests how to behave / act when a fellow threatens to commit suicide (or other criminal act) in a meeting?

I am not aware of any program literature that addresses suicidal ideation in a meeting.   While it can be very difficult to listen to someone speaking about suicide, I do not think that our program is equipped (or should be) to deal with that issue.  So, there is no direction to be found in the Traditions on this issue.  As individuals we will need to follow our conscience as to how to respond (or not respond).

I have sat in many for many years, so I have had a lot of personal experience listening to members talking about suicide.   People in severe pain often talk about their feelings of loneliness, desperation and hopelessness.   Suicide is often brought up, either in a reference to the past or the present.   Typically I feel that the individual has the right to express whatever they want without receiving input from other members (either during or after the meeting).  However, in keeping with Tradition 5 I believe that we have a duty to reach out to the struggling member of our fellowship.   On many occasions I have offered assistance after the meeting to the individual in working on recovery using the steps and other of our program (including telephone ).

If a person is threatening to committee suicide then the laws of that state needs to be taken into account as some professions are by law supposed to report such things etc and although SLAA is an anonymous group if one of our members is threatening to harm themselves then some legal things have to be taken into account. (this might be a question)

SLAA does not I repeat does not give psychological services. No trying to explore feelings or talking people off the ledge that is not what we do. We take people through the 12 steps so they can find a power greater than their sex and love . To start to meddle in someone else disease is inefficient way of using the will. Offering experience strength and hope (ESP) has been the most reliable source of spiritual change known to man. A person who was afflicted by suicidal thoughts can give there ESP, in addition asking if they need to go to emergency care or if they want someone to stay with them for support (within the of the party). Otherwise state laws need to be taken into account and the SLAA group can be informed etc…

This has gotten rawer for me as someone in one of my regular meetings committed suicide this month, they never threatened to in meetings, just mentioned depression.

I have a sponsee that has occasional suicidal ideation, we have an agreement that he has to call me and his therapist when that occurs. The therapist is better equipped to determine how likely he is to go through with it.

While is important, the anonymity in the rooms is not absolute, if someone mentions they have participated in or are planning criminal activities it is not covered under anonymity. In most states attempting suicide is a crime. A divorce lawyer in program warns that 5th steps can and have been subpoenaed.

Give them the number of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800.273.8255



A threat of suicide to a group is as loud a cry for help as anyone can imagine, unless it is walking into an ER or a police station to do it!

I don’t happen to know if this is addressed anywhere in our literature, but as a psychologist who has done emergency services and suicide intervention work, I would suggest the following:

  1. Remember you are just human beings concerned about the welfare of another human being.
  2. Don’t try to deny their feelings (don’t say, “you don’t really mean that”)
  3. It might be helpful to remind that suicide-threatening person (STP)that “if someone here is a professional person in certain occupations they now have a legal requirement to report your threat to the police or other authorities”.
  4. Follow that with   “You told us all that you are feeling really helpless and hopeless and can’t stand it anymore, but if you really wanted to kill yourself, you would have just done it, not told us.  So you must have a little hope left, and though we aren’t professionals, I am sure someone here or a couple of us would be willing to listen after the meeting while you think through what you really want to do next, or what kind of help you would accept. Someone might be able to suggest a hospital or crisis line you could use. “
  5. That’s about it.  Even as a psychologist, I would not do more than that, except if the person left and I knew a last name or car information, I might call it in to the police.  In a “suicide assessment” you ask how the person plans to do it exactly, and if there is not immediate access to a method, or the plan is vague, there is probably little danger.  But I would not ask that, because in that setting I am just another addict, not any kind of professional. Like when someone wants to give up and act out, I can only identify and talk about my own experience with living through these kinds of bad times, and express my hope that the troubled person will find their way through it as well. Many of us have had suicidal feelings at times ourselves, so if we want to, we can share how we got through it, to be sitting here still in recovery.

An important thing to keep in mind is that although the rooms practice anonymity in protecting our members, it is not protected in the same way a therapist patient is private. Any discussion that someone intends to do harm to anyone (including themselves) should be taken seriously, and reported to the proper authorities. We are not prescient enough to be able to reliably differentiate between a real threat and someone into the drama of the statements. Trained professionals should be alerted. I know nothing in the Steps, Traditions or that codifies this approach.

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The CSTCC is a group of volunteers, some of whom were ABM delegates, and others who volunteered out of interest. We do not represent a group conscience of S.L.A.A., but are committed to bringing thoughtful discussion and study of 12 Step Fellowship literature and experience to the questions that are brought to us. We offer this summary as the results of our discussions. We present the major points of concern in the hopes that wider discussion in the Fellowship will help us evolve our customs and practice of the S.L.A.A. program of recovery to better represent the loving guidance of a Higher Power. Always, we affirm the autonomy of each group and the need for each individual to follow her/his own conscience. No decision of this group, or any other, is ever forced upon another, even when we believe a practice is clearly in conflict with the Steps, Traditions, or Concepts.

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