How to Have a Conversation About Suicide

You might have never directly dealt with a suicidal person. If such a situation presents itself, you might feel uncomfortable, helpless, or even overwhelmed. Despite these feelings, it is very important that you show support to this person: ask them about any suicidal thinking and refer them to get help. Doing so can be the difference between life and death. Here are some simple steps to follow:

  1. Directly ask about suicidal intentions

Ask, “Are you thinking about suicide?” You will not increase a person’s risk of suicide by asking them directly about it. Studies show that such a question can be a relief to a person who is suicidal. They may actually welcome the chance to express painful feelings. Even if the person is not having suicidal thoughts, they are likely to appreciate your care and concern for them.

  1. Tell them that you care

Show that you care, and express it: “I care about you.” “You are important to me.” In the moment, we recommend avoiding judgmental statements or arguing about the moral issues regarding suicide.

  1. Tell them that help is available and let them know how to seek help

Let the individual know that help is available, help is effective, and that seeking help is the courageous thing to do. You could even offer to accompany them to their initial consultation at the Colonial Health Center, or could help them schedule an appointment with a counselor or doctor of their choice.

  1. Follow up with the individual you are concerned about

Oftentimes people are uncomfortable talking to a suicidal person a second time because “they don’t want to remind them of their misery,” they “don’t want to make them uncomfortable,” or they figure “if they need to talk to me again, they will.” The fact is that most people in distress feel like a burden to others, and are unlikely to bring this issue up again. It is important to let the individual know that you are still thinking about them and care about them, and, most importantly, it is important that you follow up to insure that they have received help.

  1. Talk with others

This is extremely important! Do not allow yourself to be the only one helping a suicidal person. Recognize the limits of your expertise and responsibility. Share your concerns by submitting a CARE report, or talk with family, friends, or appropriate staff members. Do not be bound by secrecy. An angry friend is better than a deceased one.