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To understand emergency nursing experiences in assisting people with suicidal behavior.Grounded theory study with symbolic interactionism conducted in 2015 to 2016 in Brazil with 19 nurses.Assistance for people with suicidal behavior is critical, challenging, evokes different feelings and requires knowledge, skills and emotional control. Nurses did not feel prepared or supported, and identified recurrent gaps and problems. Nurses occupied a limited role, restricted to attending to physical needs. They predominantly manifested opposition, judgments and incomprehension about patients.This study presents key elements to be addressed in interventions and investigations regarding nursing support, training and supervision.Assisting suicidal patients is pressing, unpredictable, challenging, and critical for nurses in nonfavorable conditions.Nurses mainly manifesting opposition, incomprehension, judgments, and conflictive attitudes about the patients’ behavior.Nurses occupied a secondary and diffuse role in the assistance of suicidal patients and restricted it to physical demands.There are recurrent assistance problems and barriers related to patients, healthcare context and professional competence.It is needed training, support and supervision for nurses, addressing emotional competences, empathy and comprehensive care.