Is Talking About Suicide with a Suicidal Person Dangerous?
Some people worry that talking about suicide with a person who is suicidal may make the person actually follow through and attempt suicide. This is a natural fear and no one wants to make a suicidal person worse. That being said, talking about suicide with a person who is suicidal is actually one of the most helpful things you can do.
Myths About Talking About Suicide
Myth 1: People who talk about suicide won't really do it.
Fact: According to HelpGuide.org, "Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like "you'll be sorry when I'm dead," "I can't see any way out," - no matter how casually or jokingly said may indicate serious suicidal feelings."
Additionally, in a study of 100 patients who attempted suicide, 84% had sought the counsel of a healthcare provider in the month before their attempt.
People do not want to die. Most people reach out for help.
Myth 2: Talking about suicide will give someone ideas.
Fact: According to HealthGuide.org, "You don't give a suicidal person morbid ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true - bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do."
Talking and asking about suicide actually shows that you care about the person, that you take him or her seriously and that it's okay to share his or her pain with you.
In this video, HealthyPlace.com Medical Director and board-certified psychiatrist, Dr. Harry Croft, talks about discussing suicide with a person who is suicidal and, in fact, encourages friends, family members and healthcare providers to discuss suicide openly.
Safe Ways to Talk About Suicide
Open and honest communication about suicide is positive but there are some dos and don'ts to remember when talking about suicide to a suicidal person:
- Be open, honest, accepting, patient, calm and nonjudgmental. Remember, your loved one is doing the right thing by talking about the suicidal feelings.
- Tell the person he or she is not alone and that you care for him or her.
- Listen to the suicidal person and let him or her unload despair and vent anger.
- Ask supportive questions like, "How long have you felt this way?"
- Always involve professional help such as the resources recommended by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- Argue or get angry with the suicidal person.
- Don't lecture about morals, ethics, the value of life or religion.
- Act shocked.
- Promise confidentiality. It's important that professional help always be involved when a person is suicidal.
- Offer ways to fix their problem or give advice. You are there only to listen.
- Make the suicidal person feel he or she has to justify the suicidal feelings.
- Glorify suicide or needlessly talk about others (like celebrities) who have died by suicide.
- Spend too much time detailing methods of suicide.
And always remember that it is not your fault that a loved one is feeling suicidal. You cannot "fix" a suicidal person's feelings. You are not to blame.
Last Updated: 17 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD