How to Talk to Someone Who is Suicidal

How to Talk to Someone Who is Suicidal

Start a conversation about the persons thoughts and feelings: it could save a life.

The facts are staggering. Each year, close to 43,000 Americans die by suicide. Nearly three times more people die by suicide than by homicide in the United States, and for each death by suicide there are 25 attempts.

Who is the tragedy hitting? Men between the ages of 45 and 64 are particularly at risk.

Related: It’s Time to Talk About Suicide

Mental health issues are part of the core of Movember this month, in an effort to turn statistics around. The Movember Foundation is hoping we can start a conversation and talk about the issues with more ease.

But where to start? You may feel uncomfortable broaching the subject and with good reason.

If you know someone who has killed themselves, the emotional pain can be extraordinary. And if someone in your circle is on the edge, it’s stressful and extremely concerning. You might feel that simply raising the topic of suicide with them could be putting ideas in their head that you don’t wish to plant.

Talking to a suicidal person about their plans and feelings can save a life, a focus of Movember.

But professionals say communication is the best way to go. Experts at Rutgers University’s have a newly established suicide prevention hotline called Hopeline, and they say straight talk is essential when it comes to preventing suicide.

What are the signs of being suicidal? Increased substance abuse, anxiety, agitation, difficulty sleeping or dramatic mood changes, feelings of hopelessness and being trapped or having no sense of purpose, being socially withdrawn, showing uncontrollable anger and reckless behavior or talking about killing themselves are all signals that someone could be thinking of taking their life.

Talk to them directly.

Related: Teen Suicide Rates Drop When This Law is In Place

“Don’t let it go and hope they aren’t thinking about suicide,” says William Zimmermann, the Hopeline’s clinician supervisor.

“Ask the person directly if they are thinking about suicide. You can say, “I care about you. Some of the things you’ve said or done have made me wonder. Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Zimmerman suggests.

It’s important not to judge the person, or deny their thoughts and feelings, experts say. Telling the person they shouldn’t feel as they do, or say what they’re saying, will most likely send the message that you don’t want to continue the conversation, even though it’s an important one to have.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

“Denying their perspective diminishes the likelihood of having them open up to you,” says Zimmerman. “Saying “Oh, you don’t mean that; you have so much to live for” shows you are not listening. Opening the topic for discussion gives an opportunity to share something painful that had previously been borne alone. It also provides an opportunity to intervene.”

What can you do besides asking to hear the truth and listening? Zimmerman emphasizes that family and friends of those someone who is suicidal should also seek help.

Call a help line and seek immediate assistance. Getting guidance from a mental health expert is key, as they will listen to your concerns and work with you to develop a plan to get your family member or friend the professional help they need.

Photo credits: kwest/; 193661093/


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