While discussing suicide may be difficult and overwhelming, dialogue could be the very thing that helps prevent it. With a topic as important as someone’s life, we collectively need to become more comfortable engaging in conversations about suicide.
Outlined below are items to consider when speaking to someone with suicidal thoughts. Each point offers direction to help you feel comfortable initiating and furthering the discussion.
Since suicide is often not openly discussed, uncertainty regarding how to navigate the conversation is normal. If an individual doesn’t outright state they’re suicidal, be direct and ask. By asking, you’re not planting the idea. If someone is truly suicidal, the idea is typically already present. Suicidal thoughts tend to emerge gradually over time. By asking, you’re communicating the powerful message that you see their struggle and want to help.
To ask if someone is experiencing thoughts of suicide, consider the following questions:
- Do you ever think about suicide?
- Are you experiencing thoughts of hurting yourself?
As they begin to share, talk openly, be genuine and non-judgmental. Be especially conscious of your body language and remain engaged in the conversation for as long as they need. Consider these follow-up questions to encourage the individual to continue talking:
- Did something happen to make you start feeling this way?
- How long have you had thoughts of suicide?
- Have you thought about seeking help?
- Do you have a plan?
Starting the conversation doesn’t mean controlling the conversation. Let the individual talk through their thoughts and emotions surrounding suicide. Be patient and sympathetic with both your verbal and nonverbal cues. It may be the first time someone is sharing their struggle out loud, so let the conversation unfold organically.
Try not to make assumptions. Don’t assume you know the cause, feelings or the kind of help someone needs. Understand their struggle is incredibly personal, and simply grant them a safe space to talk. It takes an enormous amount of courage to share such an intimate and intimidating thought. Respect their vulnerability and trust in your companionship.
You don’t need to be a medical or mental health professional to support someone with thoughts of suicide. Often, it’s less intimidating to initially confide in a family member or friend rather than a healthcare professional. Encourage them to share what they believe will help, and directly ask what they need. Finally, thank the individual for their bravery and willingness to participate in the conversation.
If someone makes their intentions known by displaying warning signs or explicitly sharing their intent, they’re asking for help. Individuals considering suicide are often uncertain about following through with the act. By reaching out, they’re communicating there’s a part of them that still wants to live. Your support during this critical time is invaluable.
While helping someone navigate their suicidal thoughts, you may be faced with difficult emotions yourself. As you continue to offer support, make sure you have support in place for yourself.
Consider who else can help you support someone in need. Whether it’s helping someone connect with a healthcare professional, support group or suicide hotline number, you need to discuss the next steps to seeking care. Offer to accompany them if it will make them feel more comfortable.
When discussing care options, consider the following resources:
You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to seek additional information regarding how to assist someone with suicidal thoughts.
Suicide is difficult to think about, let alone discuss. But the worst thing we can do is nothing. Know the warning signs and muster up the courage to ask. The sooner we can increase our comfort talking about suicide, the more lives that we can save. Everyone plays a role in suicide prevention.