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Having ‘the talk’ #SuicideAwarenessMonth

Tips for Talking About Suicide

As our long-time readers know, September is Suicide Awareness Month. According to NAMI, almost 45,000 individuals died by suicide in 2016. We have written other blog posts about suicide, its relationship to domestic violence/sexual assault, and different ways individuals can work to prevent suicide. For this year, we will discuss how to talk about suicide with someone who may be suicidal. Suicide is often thought of as this lofty, far-away subject, so many people do not know how to best engage with someone who is suicidal.

  1. The first thing you can do is ask. “I noticed you have been depressed/down/acting differently lately. Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Asking directly will not cause someone to become suicidal. Instead, you will open the topic for discussion, whether they are thinking of suicide or not. This form of direct conversation removes the ‘taboo’ element from the subject, thus making it easier to seek help.

When you ask, make sure you do not phrase it in a way that may be judgmental. “You’re not thinking of killing yourself, are you?” can be perceived as more of an accusation or judgment, implying that the only ‘right’ answer is that they are not thinking of suicide. This could cause the person to become less likely to seek help, for fear that others will think negatively of them.

  1. Be prepared for the answer. You may want them to say “No, I am not thinking about suicide,” because you cannot envision your loved one contemplating suicide. However, if you are going to talk about suicide honestly and in a manner that would most help someone, you need to be ready to hear that “yes.”

If you do not feel that you are ready to talk about suicide with someone, you can call a suicide or crisis hotline for help. These hotlines exist to help people thinking of suicide, so they are a great resource to help you offer help to someone else.

  1. Validate their experiences, but don’t minimize. Everyone has a different experience, so recognize that what they are experiencing or feeling is valid. They know what they are feeling—just because someone else may not understand why they have these feelings does not mean that these feelings do not exist or are not valid.

While you discuss that their feelings and experiences are valid, do not minimize what they are going through. Suicide is a significant health issue—someone’s thoughts of suicide should not be taken lightly.

  1. Offer resources. By starting dialogue with the individual, you are becoming a resource to them. While you may become an invaluable resource for support, they may need other resources for information or help. You do not need to push a formal typed list of every suicide organization and counseling resource on them, but it helps if you know of some websites for them to check for additional help. This way, you can fully acknowledge that while you may not have all the answers personally, the answers are possible to find.


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National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text TALK to 741-741

TrevorLifeline (LGBTQ+ Youth): 1-866-488-7386

Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255








Emily is a Preventionist and Sexual Assault Advocate at Tri-Valley Haven.  For more information about how to access or support our life-saving services for survivors and families, please call our office at (925) 449-5845 or visit http://www.trivalleyhaven.org

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this important article regarding suicide prevention.


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