Talking About Suicide to Someone You're Worried About
Talking about suicide is very important if you're worried about someone. You may be afraid that discussing suicide will make it more likely to happen. But in fact, talking about it can reduce the risk of suicide. Feeling connected to others can help protect people from suicide.
How to talk about suicide
If someone talks about suicide, self-harm, or feeling hopeless, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for advice and support. Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Or text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.
It may not be easy to discuss suicide with someone you care about. But an open, supportive conversation can be a lifeline for a person who's thinking about ending their life.
When you're ready to have this talk, follow these steps.
- Don't be afraid to be direct.
For example, you might say, "I'm worried about you. Are you thinking about suicide?" They may be relieved to talk about it. Try to stay calm and not seem too shocked. Encourage them to talk about why they feel this way. Don't judge them or argue with them. Accept that their feelings are real.
- Be a good listener.
Pay close attention while they're talking. Make eye contact, and don't interrupt. Be alert for any reasons they give for wanting to live.
When they're finished, ask questions to make sure you understand what they said. Repeat what you heard, including anything they mentioned that makes their life worth living.
- Ask if they have a plan.
This may feel scary to talk about, but it's important to know. Have they set a date or chosen a location? Do they have any weapons, pills, or other means of suicide? Have they tried to hurt themself before? The answers can help you assess the danger. The more detailed their plan, the higher the risk. But take all talk of suicide seriously.
If they have a plan to harm themself or someone else, get help right away. Call 911 or take them to an emergency room.
- Offer your help.
For example, you might be able to:
- Help them make a list of trusted people they can call for support.
- Help them find treatment or a support group.
- Remove and store any means of suicide, such as weapons or pills.
If possible, tell them you're available when they need to talk. But don't commit to anything that you won't or can't do.
- Encourage them to get professional help.
Urge them to call their doctor, a mental health professional, or a crisis hotline, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (call 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741). It's free and confidential, and trained counselors are available 24/7.
Don't agree to keep this talk a secret. This may not feel right. But the person you care about needs more support than one person can give, and their life could be at risk.
- Follow up on your talk.
Call or visit soon, or send a text or an email. You might offer to drop off food or go for a walk with them. Staying in touch shows that you care. And it helps the person feel valued and supported.
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Andrew Littlefield PhD - Psychology, Behavioral Health
Lesley Ryan MD - Family Medicine