How to Talk to a Suicidal Person
If a person is suicidal, it's critical to not ignore the situation. You will have to talk to the suicidal person. While this may seem like a scary thought, often people who are suicidal need someone to reach out and talk to; this may make some of the feelings of suicide abate. Additionally, by talking to the suicidal person, it may also be what the person needs in order to find the strength to get help.
The First Thing to Talk About With a Suicidal Person
The first and most important reason to talk to a suicidal person is to determine if his or her life is in immediate danger. For example, you might ask:
- Are you thinking of taking your life right now?
- Have you put a suicide plan into action (such as ingesting alcohol or drugs)?
If there is immediate threat to the suicidal person's life or anyone else's, you must call 9-1-1 immediately. Emergency responders are there to save any life that is atrisk. You cannot handle a situation like that alone.
Things to Remember When Talking to a Suicidal Person
When you're talking to a suicidal person you want to be calm and make the person at ease as much as possible. Even if you find talking about suicide very difficult, it's best not to act shocked when a person tries to talk to you about it. What you need to remember is that the suicidal person is reaching out and that is the first step anyone can take to getting better.
Remember these things when you talk to a suicidal person:
- Listen to the other person. Don't be judgemental. Accept the suicidal person's feelings.
- Don't dare the person to do it.
- Don't be sworn to secrecy. You need to ensure professionals get involved so that the person can get long-term help for his or her suicidal feelings.
- Offer hope that alternatives to suicide are available; however, do not be glib or trite about it.
How to Talk About Suicide
In addition to the above tips, remember that speaking openly and honestly about suicide will not increase the likelihood of suicide and, in fact, often helps. Try to avoid judgemental language and use the term, "die by suicide," if possible (rather than "commit suicide"). Do no glorify suicide nor dwell significantly on suicide methods. (For example, asking a person how they might kill his or herself is fine, but describing a suicide method in detail is not necessary nor helpful.)
Talk about a suicidal person's feelings with open-ended questions. Some examples include:
- When did you begin feeling like this?
- Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?
- How can I best support you right now?
- Have you thought about getting help?
Helpful things to say to a person who is suicidal include:
- You are not alone in this. I'm here for you.
- You may not believe it now, but the way you're feeling will change.
- I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
- When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, minute - whatever you can manage.
The Results Talking to a Suicidal Person
The end result in talking to a suicidal person should always be that the person gets professional help. Calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is one way to facilitate this as the operators can direct you to local suicide help resources.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (available 24/7): 1-800-273-TALK (8255) http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
While it's scary to talk about suicide, especially with someone who is suicidal, remember that talking to a suicidal person can save his or her life. People who are suicidal often feel alone and, by talking to him or her, you remind the person that you care and will help the person in his or her fight against suicide.
Last Updated: 14 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD