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WE'RE HERE FOR YOU 24/7. SUICIDE PREVENTION AND 2-1-1:
How To Talk About Suicide

How to Talk about Suicide

If you’re a reporter wanting to know about safe messaging for reporting on suicide, check out these helpful guidelines.

For everyone else, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that talking about suicide is the best way to prevent it from happening. Our words are our most valuable assets when someone we love is in crisis. Through a caring conversation, we can show someone they are not alone, they are loved, and there is hope.

The fact that talking about suicide is endlessly helpful doesn’t mean it’s not still difficult to do. A lot of us are nervous about talking to a loved one about suicide because we’re frightened we might say the wrong thing. We want to ease your fears. Below are some tips for talking about suicide with the people in your life.

Be Aware of Suicide Warning Signs

It’s important to be aware of the warning signs of suicide so you can tell that someone is hurting. If we can recognize warning signs early on, a person might not ever reach the point where they view suicide as their only option.

Some common warning signs are:

  • Hopelessness
  • Rage, anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Feeling trapped—like there’s no way out
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family or society
  • Anxiety, agitation, being unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life

Though all warning signs should be taken seriously, some are more concerning than others.

If someone is exhibiting the following warning signs, emergency steps (like calling 9-1-1) should be taken:

  • Someone threatening to hurt or kill themselves
  • Someone looking for ways to kill themselves: seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means
  • Someone talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide

Ask the Question

If a person in your life is showing suicide warning signs, ask them if they are thinking about suicide.

You can be indirect: 

“Do you ever wish you could go to sleep and never wake up?”

Or you can be very direct: 

“Are you thinking about suicide?”

We’ve found that it helps to use the warning signs to explain the reason you are asking. For example, “You haven’t been hanging out with the family as much; I heard you crying in your room the other night; and yesterday you told me you just couldn’t take it anymore. I’m worried about you – are you thinking about suicide?”

In this example, you show care and concern, attentiveness, and openness. When asking about suicide, we want to ask in a way that encourages openness and honesty, but ultimately, it’s important to find a way that feels comfortable to you.

Listen to What They Have to Say

After we’ve asked and the person says they are thinking about suicide, one of the best responses is simply: 

“Tell me what’s going on.”

The key to listening is that you do not need to fix a problem, offer advice, or take away their pain; all you need to do is hear them.

One of the best ways to be an active listener is to use reflection:

“I can see you’re really sad.” 
“I hear you saying no one understands.” 
“It sounds like you’re overwhelmed.”

Here are some other great tips for listening:

  • Listen without judgement 
  • Listen with compassion 
  • Avoid giving advice 
  • Offer hope 
  • Encourage him or her to get help 
  • Allow him or her to be understand

Tell Someone (Get Help)

Our final step is to tell – this step is all about safety.

Help the person get to safety, whether that’s calling the Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), taking them to a hospital, or simply saying you are available next time they need to talk. Make sure they know what help is available and that they have access to it.

If you’re unsure about what help is available in your area, call 2-1-1 and trained call specialists can help you find crisis centers, counseling centers and even support groups for you or the person you’re trying to help.

Also, remember to follow-up. Checking in with people you’ve talked to about suicide can show them they matter and people care about their well-being.

Self-Care

As a final step, practice good self-care. Talking about suicide is difficult and we all need to set healthy boundaries and take good care of ourselves. If you’re interested in learning more in-depth tools for helping to prevent suicide, check out our education and outreach programs.