How Talking About Suicide Can Help

How Talking About Suicide Can Help

Talking about suicide is an effective way to help prevent it. But it’s vital to know what to say.

We can all help prevent suicide, says 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, leaving site icon the new national help number. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline wants everyone to know that suicide is not inevitable for anyone.

Many more people attempt suicide than die from it. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says that supports the idea that many who try suicide want their pain to end, not their life.

To help someone who is thinking about suicide, the key message has three parts: hope, healing and helpleaving site icon

So how can you help?

Recognizing Who’s at Risk

Most people thinking about suicide give some sign of their intentions. Learning the warning signs is essential to recognizing people who may be at risk.

Some of the major warning signs are:

  • Talking about suicide or death
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself
  • Feelings of anger and despair
  • Big shifts in mood, eating or sleep patterns 

Other risk factors include:

  • Earlier suicide attempts or self-harm, such as cutting
  • History of suicide in family
  • Substance misuse
  • Mood problems like depression and bipolar disorder
  • Facing bullying, trauma or abuse
  • Long-term sickness or pain
  • Loneliness
  • Access to unsecured prescription medicines or guns
Helping in Times of Crisis

Speak Up
Many people think that mentioning suicide to someone who may be at risk may be planting the idea of suicide. But that isn’t true. Openly expressing your concerns is an important way to help. It shows you care and want to understand.

Don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” If the answer is yes, stay with them. Text or call 988, the three-digit dialing code connecting people to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. leaving site icon Care for veterans leaving site icon is also available at 988.

Learn What to Say to Help
It’s important to learn the right way to talk to someone who is thinking about suicide, says the National Child Traumatic Stress Networkleaving site icon

Ask if they’d like to talk, and really listen without judging. Ask what would help them right then, without giving possible solutions. The key is to be there and then follow up, which might mean helping them reach out to mental health care providers. Encourage them to keep visits with those doctors and to continue with medicines or other treatments.

Friends and family can also take steps to make a safe place for someone who is at risk and learn how they might step in during a crisis, leaving site icon says the American Psychological Association.

Long-Term Support

Build Social Ties
Being closely linked to family and community support may decrease someone’s suicidal thoughts and actions, says the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionleaving site icon Everyone can help support others. Build family resiliency by:

  • Helping children learn coping and problem-solving skills
  • Supporting programs that teach social skills
  • Boosting ties to friends, family and community
  • Working on communication skills to improve relationships

Encourage Mental Health Care
Getting mental health care saves lives. If you know someone who is struggling, encourage them to reach out to their doctor for care. You could even show support by helping them schedule and get to that visit.

Talk About It
Talking about suicide is also a step toward decreasing the stigma tied to it. Stigma leads to silence, which does not help those touched by the loss. It can leave people feeling alone when facing the tragedy.

When someone dies by suicide, there is a chance to talk about suicide as a health issue that affects everyone, leaving site icon says NAMI.

Take Action

Remember, if you or a loved one is having thoughts of harming themselves now, get help right away. You can call or text 988 or visit 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifelineleaving site icon

Sources: Promote Hope, Healing and Help to Prevent Suicide, leaving site icon National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 2016; Suicide and PTSD, leaving site icon U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Facts about Suicide, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023; Suicide and Suicide Prevention, leaving site icon American Psychological Association; Words to Use When Talking about Suicide, leaving site icon National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2021; The Ripple Effect of Suicide, leaving site icon NAMI, 2018; 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, leaving site icon U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA); Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors among Adults, leaving site icon SAMHSA, 2021