Tough Conversations: How to Speak with Someone Considering Suicide
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If you think someone is in immediate danger, you can help by calling a local crisis center, dialing 911, or taking the person to an emergency room. While your own safety should be your first priority, experts do not recommend that you leave someone with a severe risk of attempting suicide alone.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
This article does not substitute for the need for professional counseling or crisis support. This is a framework for how to approach a conversation with someone who may be considering suicide.
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It’s not easy to talk about suicide. It can be even harder when you’re having a discussion with someone you think might be considering suicide. The following article provides strategies for having that difficult conversation and suggests actions you can take to connect the person to professional resources.
Part One: A Few Things to Think About
Preventing suicide begins with understanding and looking for its warning signs, which may look different for different people. You can read more about warning signs here, but the biggest “red flags” include:
|Warning signs that someone might be considering suicide|
Additionally, the National Institute of Mental Health identifies the following risk factors that increase the likelihood that someone will attempt suicide (full list here). Remember: these risk factors do not mean someone will attempt suicide. Any person can exhibit risk factors for suicide, and it is nearly impossible to predict when someone will act on suicidal thoughts.
|Suicide risk factors|
Another reminder: having a conversation with someone considering suicide does not “put the idea into their mind.” Research does not support a connection between asking about suicide and suicide attempts. The fear of unintentionally encouraging someone to consider suicide keeps many people from talking about mental health needs. In fact, directly asking about someone about suicidal thoughts can be the best way to determine if someone is at risk of harming themselves.
Part Two: Having the Conversation
Talking about suicide is not easy, and there is no such thing as a perfect conversation. The important thing is that you demonstrate your care for that person. To do so, it is important to ask directly if they’ve considered suicide and offer ideas and personal commitment to getting them help.
Based upon the best available suicide prevention research, here are a few “do’s” for having a difficult conversation about suicide:
|When having a difficult conversation about suicide, DO…|
Just as important as knowing what to do when talking with someone about suicide is knowing what not to do. Here are a few “don’t’s” for talking with someone who may be considering suicide:
|When having a difficult conversation about suicide, DON’T…|
People are different and will respond differently to being asked difficult and personal questions. In any case, the purpose of the conversation is to check in with the person you’re concerned about. It’s important that you respect their boundaries if they’re not in immediate danger. If the person does respond that they have thought about suicide you can assess how immediate their risk is for suicide by asking the following questions:
- Have you attempted suicide in the past?
- Do you have a plan to harm yourself?
- Do you have the means to carry out your plan? (e.g., access to pills or firearms)
Depending on their response, you may seek a variety of ways to help them find support they need. If someone is considering suicide, always seek to connect them with professional resources in your community. This can mean counseling, crisis lines, or behavioral health services.
If you suspect the person is in imminent danger—that they have specific plans to harm themselves—you can offer to drive them to a hospital or crisis center. You can also call 911 to get help. Do not leave them alone, but do not try to fend for yourself.
Regardless of what you do, be respectful of their concerns and make it easier for them to access mental health support. A person considering suicide is in a vulnerable position and should not be left alone.
Part Three: Next Steps
After listening to how the other person is feeling and assessing their risk for suicide (without diagnosing them), consider taking these actions:
- Seek professional support through a therapist or campus counseling center. It can be encouraging to ask if they’re open to talking to someone or share your own experiences. You can also offer to walk them to a Counseling Center or therapist in your community to make an appointment. The goal is to be supportive and help them follow through with seeking help.
- Make sure they know about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). The Lifeline is made up of over 100 local crisis centers and available 24/7. In virtually any place, you can speak to someone who knows your home, the context of your life, and connect you with trusted resources in your community.
- Ask the person what they think they need or what they think they should do. Asking for their input can make the conversation seem less one-sided. Above all, this may give you a glimpse into the specific pains they face. Suicide is often considered as an escape from overwhelming circumstances or perceived and real feelings of entrapment. Knowing these pains can help you provide better support.
- Remove potential threats from their path. Whether it is alcohol, drugs, or some form of weapon (e.g., firearm), do what is within your power to remove sources for self-harm. In some cases, this may not be something you can control. Regardless, it is important to work together with others to ensure they can’t access things that would result in suicide or self-harm.
- Continue to follow up and show your support. Having one conversation isn’t likely to resolve suicidal thoughts for good. Suicidal thoughts can consume a person’s mind and is not driven by some small cause that can flutter away. After professional help has been sought, we would encourage you to continue checking in, asking the hard questions, and most importantly, offering hope.
- Ensure you take care of yourself outside of this experience. Providing such intense, emotional support can take a toll on you. Make sure you take time for yourself outside of conversations and giving support. Connect with someone you can trust to talk about your experience, whether a family member or friend or a professional.
Having a conversation about mental health and suicide isn’t easy. It can be messy, non-linear, and very uncomfortable. No matter how difficult it is, the most important thing we can do to help someone is have a conversation.
The best way to prevent suicide is by talking about it, and by having a difficult conversation, you’re communicating that you care, that you are present, and that no one is alone. If you are struggling or know someone who might be struggling, consider having a conversation today.
Was this content helpful for you? Have you found other ways to help someone considering suicide? Share your thoughts with us here!
 Created based upon previous references.
 Assessed based upon previous references.