6 Ways to Start the Conversation About Suicide

This article is part of Harbor’s Prevention Presents series, found on Harbor.org.

Depression can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, or ethnicity. Depression includes symptoms like sad mood, lack of motivation, changes in sleep and appetite, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthless, and thoughts of suicide. (Click here to learn more about depression.) In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that, in the United States, a person takes his or her life by suicide every 13 minutes. If you are worried a friend or loved one may be thinking about suicide, you may be able to help!

Here are some guidelines for approaching someone about suicide:

  • Start by expressing your concern about the person using specific examples of your observations, like “I noticed that you haven’t been to game night in three weeks,” or “The past several times I’ve seen you, you seem worried and distracted.”
  • Don’t be afraid to ask directly. If you seem comfortable discussing your concerns about the person’s well-being, he or she may be more likely to discuss his or her experiences with you. “Are you having thoughts about hurting yourself?” or “Have you ever thought about killing yourself?” may help open the conversation lines for the person.
  • Ask how you can help the person. None of us are mind-readers, so asking the person how you may be of help to them is the best way to know what they need from you during this hard time for them.
  • Be familiar with resources. If the person admits to being suicidal, you will need to act quickly. Go into your conversation ready with a list of emergency rooms and crisis centers nearest you. You may also call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for additional assistance.
  • Offer to go with the person while they seek help. He/she may be more likely to follow through with asking for the help he/she needs if you are there as a built-in support.
  • If the person denies being suicidal or tells you he/she does not want to talk or do anything about his/her experiences, remind him/her that you are there if he/she needs you in the future. Remind yourself that you did what you could to help the person in need!

If you are still unsure of what to do, Harbor can help. Our clinicians are trained to assess for suicide and are more than happy to help anyone in need. Give Harbor a call at 419-475-4449 for more information or visit www.harbor.org.

Kaitlyn SmithKatie Smith, LPC-CR, is a clinical therapist with Harbor, an affiliate of ProMedica.