How to Have a Conversation About Suicide

Chances are that you’ve never had a conversation about suicide with someone. You might feel uncomfortable, helpless, or even overwhelmed. Despite these feelings, it’s really important that you show support to the person you’re concerned about. Doing so can be the difference between life and death.

It’s perfectly natural to have doubts about raising such a sensitive subject as a suicide. It’s completely understandable that you would worry about saying the wrong thing.

And let’s be frank – many of us are afraid that if we raise the topic of suicide, then we risk putting the idea in someone’s head. That talking about suicide actually makes it more likely that someone will take their own life. Rest assured that this simply isn’t true.

Here are some steps to follow for having a conversation about suicide:

  • Make time to talk
  • Find a private place to talk where there won’t be any distractions and set aside plenty of time to have a conversation. If possible, try to find a comfortable place where you both can sit.
  • Directly ask about suicidal intentions
  • Ask, "Are you thinking about suicide?" You won’t increase the 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 feeling suicidal. They may actually welcome the chance to express painful feelings. Even if the person isn’t having thoughts of suicide, they’re likely to appreciate your care and concern for them.
  • Tell them that you care
  • We all want to feel that we matter to others. Let them know that you care, and express it: "I care about you." "You’re important to me." It’s really important to avoid judgmental statements or arguing about the moral issues of suicide.
  • Tell them that help is available and let them know how to seek help
  • Let the person know that help is available, that there are effective treatments, and that seeking help is the courageous thing to do. You could even offer to accompany them to their initial consult with a family doctor or therapist.
  • Follow up with the person you’re concerned about
  • Often, people are uncomfortable talking a second time to a person who’s struggling with thoughts of suicide 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’s important to let the person know that you’re still thinking about them and care about them, and, most importantly, it’s important that you follow up to make sure that they connected with professional help.