10 Tips for Talking to a Person Thinking About Suicide

By Jessica Kane

If you’ve a family member, friend, or someone else in your life that appears to be thinking about suicide, suffering from suicidal ideations, you naturally will want to reach out to that individual. You may wonder about how you can go about talking to a person who is laboring under suicidal ideations. There are 10 tips that you will want to consider following to talk a loved one struggling with thoughts of suicide.

Be Yourself

Perhaps the most important element to bear in mind when talking to a person laboring under suicidal ideations is to be yourself. If you are like nearly everyone, you will struggle trying to figure out precisely what to say to a person thinking about suicide. (Suggestions regarding that are presented shortly.) In the end, it’s not so much what you say but how you say it. The tone of your voice will convey that you sincerely are concerned about the other person’s situation.

Listen

Even before considering what to say, a key part of being there for a person thinking about suicide is to listen – listen without judgment. Let the person speak, vent, and unload their sense of despair. It makes no never-mind if everything coming out of the person’s mouth is negative. The fact that a person contemplating suicide is talking about his or her feelings, thoughts, or the situation more generally is a positive step. 

Be Empathetic

A key factor to bear utmost in mind when talking to a person thinking about suicide is to be empathetic and compassionate. Do not be judgmental. You need to be calm, patient, and accepting.

Specific Statements and Questions to Consider

Before diving into a list of 10 statements and questions to consider using when talking to a person thinking about suicide, you must never read from a script when reaching out to a person in this type of situation. You must not merely memorize these statements and questions. As was noted previously, you need to be yourself. You need to be empathetic. Running through a script is neither being yourself nor acting in an empathetic manner.

These statements and questions were developed by psychology professionals who specialize in working with people who are laboring under suicidal ideations. They should be used by you as suggestions for formulating your thoughts in a general manner before talking to someone in your life that is dealing with suicidal thoughts.

The 10 statements and questions to consider are:

1.     I’m glad you feel comfortable to talk to me about thinking of suicide.

2.     I’m very sorry you’re hurting.

3.     What’s going on that makes you want to die?

4.     When do you think you’ll act on your suicidal thoughts?

5.     What ways do you think of killing yourself?

6.     Do you have access to a gun?

7.     I care about you, and I would be so sad if you were not around.

8.     Help is available.

9.     What can I do to help you?

10.  I hope you’ll keep talking to me. I really am here for you.

A couple other points need to be made about these statements and questions. First, you need to put these questions into your “own words.” Again, these were written by psychological professionals. Second, not every question should be used in a conversation with an individual contemplating suicide in some manner. As can’t be said enough, you need to be yourself, be compassionate and empathetic, and listen.

Offer Hope

Share with an individual suffering from suicidal ideations that “things will get better.” Let the person know that support and help is available to him or her. Emphasize to the person that he or she is not alone, that you care about the individual, and that other people do as well.

Don’t Offer Quick Fixes or Extensive Advice 

In talking to a person thinking about suicide, you should not offer quick fixes or give them advice beyond considering professional assistance. In the grand scheme of things, there are no quick fixes when a person is thinking about suicide. Moreover, offering advice is not likely to be helpful and very well may drive a suicidal person away from you. As will be discussed in a moment, the only real advice you should offer a person thinking about suicide is to obtain professional help.

Don’t Lecture

Absolutely do not lecture a person laboring under suicidal thoughts. Examples of specific examples of statements you should not make a person thinking about suicide include:

·      Suicide is a sin or goes against God

·      Life is too valuable to be thinking about suicide

·      Suicide is wrong

·      Suicide is selfish

When a person is thinking about taking his or her life, making these statements to them could do more harm than good. They are not likely to be helpful in moving a person away from his or her suicidal ideations.

Evaluate the Threat Level

In addition to having an idea what you should and should not say to a person thinking about suicide, you need to be able to evaluate the level of risk you think a person’s suicidal thought or statements indicate. Mental health professionals classify the suicide threat level onto four levels:

·      Low: Some suicidal thoughts, but no suicide plan. Person states he or she won’t attempt suicide.

·      Moderate: Suicidal thoughts. Vague suicide plan, but one that doesn’t seem particularly lethal. Person states he or she won’t attempt suicide.

·      High: Suicidal thoughts. Specific suicide plan that is highly lethal. Person states he or she won’t attempt suicide.

·      Severe: Suicidal thoughts. Specific suicide plan that is highly lethal. Person states he or she will attempt suicide.

Suicidal prevention specialists utilize a set of four questions to evaluate the threat level:

·      Plan: Do you have a suicide plan?

·      Means: Do you have the means to carry out a suicide plan?

·      Time Set: Do you have a time set to carry out your plan?

·      Intention: Do you intend to take your life?

Four common suicide risk factors:

·      Mental illness, drug abuse, alcoholism

·      Previous suicide attempt(s), history of abuse or trauma, family history of suicide

·      Recent loss, recent stressful event, chronic pain, terminal illness

·      Social isolation or loneliness

Professional Assistance

As part of talking to a person about suicide, you will want to suggest (not demand, suggest) that he or she consider thinking professional assistance. Be willing to go with the individual to an initial meeting with a professional.

Don’t Blame Yourself

Finally, you must not blame yourself for someone else’s suicidal ideations. You must not blame yourself if a person in your life does commit suicide.

If you find yourself in a position of being a survivor of suicide loss, there are resources available to you, many of which can be access through Survivors of Suicide Loss. You can also find a list of resources for those suffering with suicide ideation on our resources page.