Starting the Conversation

Asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push someone into doing something self-destructive. In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal thoughts.

Ask the Question

The first step is to find out whether the person is in danger of acting on suicidal thoughts. Be sensitive, but ask direct questions.

1.) Before starting a conversation with someone you are concerned about, be sure to have suicide crisis resources on hand. For additional resources, check out our emergency response.

2.) Find a private place to talk where there won’t be any distractions and set aside plenty of time to have a conversation. If possible, try to find a comfortable place where you both can sit.

3.) Let the person know why you asked to speak with them. For example, “I’ve noticed that you quit the baseball team and have no interest in participating in the things you once enjoyed. I’m concerned about you, what’s going on?”

1.) Try to get as much information about the individual’s circumstances as possible by asking open ended questions, such as: “You seem down lately, how have things been going at_______ ?” “Tell me more about how you are feeling.”

2.) Listen to what they have to say and reassure them that you are listening by summarizing their response. “So it sounds like things at home have been really stressful and you are worried about your slipping grades.”

3.) Validate their feelings, and provide them with support. “It sounds like things have been really tough for you lately, no wonder you have felt so stressed. Please know that I’m concerned for you and that there’s help to get you through this.” “Thank you so much for sharing with me. I can’t imagine how difficult_______ has been. What can I do to help?”

4.) Follow your gut. If you feel like they may be having thoughts of suicide, be direct and ask the question, “Have you ever felt so badly that you think about suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Asking these questions will not put the idea in their head or make it more likely that they will attempt.

5.) If they say yes, stay with the person. Connect them either to an adult, a mental health professional, or if they are in immediate danger to themselves or others, call 911. If you are unsure how to locate a mental health professional, contact the Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

1.) If they have not made a plan or thought about method, help them locate a mental health professional, and call to make an appointment as soon as possible. Consider offering to take them to their initial appointment. Follow up with them regularly and stay involved in their recovery process. Continue to be supportive, compassionate, and encouraging.

2.) If they have made a plan and have access to means, help remove the means from the vicinity (means are any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt, such as pills or a hand gun). You may need help with this from family or law enforcement. Never put yourself in danger. If you are concerned about your own safety, or the individuals, call 911 immediately.

3.) Create a plan to keep them safe until they are able to meet with a mental health professional. This may include means removal, abstaining from alcohol or drugs, creating a list of people they can call if they are having suicidal thoughts, connecting them with the Suicide Lifeline 800-273-TALK (8255), and getting a verbal commitment that they will not act on their suicidal feelings.

1.) Provide them with the resources you have prepared including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK (8255) or see other available resources on our Emergency Response page.

2.) If you feel that they are in immediate risk, call 911 or take them to the Emergency Room. Don’t leave them alone.

1.) “You aren’t thinking of killing yourself are you?”  When you word the question in such a way, it sets them up to say no, even if they are having suicidal thoughts.

2.) “How could you be so selfish?! Don’t you know how hurt your family would be if you killed yourself?”  Making someone feel guilty will only add to their pain. Instead, instill hope and focus on assisting they find help.

3.) Never promise to keep a suicide plan a secret. You may be concerned that they will be upset with you, but when someone’s life is at risk, it is more important to ensure their safety.

Sources: 13Minutes.org, Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Mayo Clinic

Appropriate Language & Reporting

Each of us – community members, survivors, educators, media, advocates, young and old alike – can play a contributing role in changing the statistics and saving lives from suicide. Whether it’s how we report on suicide deaths, or the language we use so we are not shaming survivors or those who have attempted and are contributing to a more open, impactful dialogue, we can all make a positive difference in suicide prevention. Explore the sections below to learn more.

There may come a time when you encounter an individual who is expressing thoughts of suicide on your social media sites. You can help by posting a message encouraging them to call the Lifeline at Suicide Lifeline 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also help by contacting the safety teams on the various social media sites.

  • On Facebook, you can anonymously report someone as suicidal by going to Report Suicidal Content. Facebook’s safety team will send the individual an email with the Lifeline number. You can also use Facebook to support someone in a suicidal crisis. Watch the support video.
  • On Twitter, go to the Help Center and Select “Self-Harm” to send an email to Twitter reporting an individual who is suicidal. Twitter will send a direct message to the individual with the Lifeline number.
  • On Instagram, go to the Help Center and report the individual that shared the suicidal content.
  • On YouTube, you can click on the flag icon under a video and select, “Harmful Dangerous Acts” and then, “Suicide or Self-Injury”. YouTube will review the video and may send a message with the Lifeline number.
  • On Tumblr, go to the help page and write an email to Tumblr about an individual who is suicidal. Include as much information as possible, including the URL of the Tumblr blog. Tumblr’s safety team will send the individual an email with the Lifeline number.

Take the time to familiarize yourself with these processes now, so that if the time comes when you encounter an individual who is suicidal, you will know how to report the individual and get him/her help.

Talking about suicide can be very difficult for many people. It can be a scary, uncomfortable topic to tackle, but it’s an important one! Having the conversation about suicide and building awareness about the warning signs could save someone’s life. We want to make sure that safe, effective messaging is used.

We believe in people first language, and hope that others become more cognizant of using this type of language whenever talking about individuals who may be experiencing a variety of situations. In this instance, if someone is suicidal or having suicidal thoughts, that would come after the individual. For example, use “an individual who is suicidal”. First and foremost, the person is still a person, and the suicidal ideation is something they are experiencing, not something that defines them. We use similar language when referring to someone with a mental illness of any type. For example, use “someone with bipolar disorder” or “an individual with depression” – not a bipolar individual or depressed individual.

It has long been said that someone “commits” suicide. Again, this is not language that we encourage in our suicide prevention efforts. Saying someone commits suicide implies they have committed a crime or sin. Instead, we encourage language such as “died by suicide” or “completed suicide”. We also do not recommend common language that has been used referring to a successful suicide or failed attempt. No death is a success, and an attempt that is not completed is not a failure. While some may feel this language is insignificant and doesn’t matter, we disagree. Language is powerful, and we encourage anyone discussing suicide and practicing in this area to use that power for good and to help change years of inappropriate language.

More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration, and prominence of coverage.

Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death. ​Suicide Contagion, or “Copycat Suicide,” occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to another suicide. Follow these best practices when reporting on suicide:

  • Covering suicide carefully, even briefly, can change public misperceptions, and correct myths, which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help.
  • Avoid saying “commit” or “committed” suicide. Using the word “commit” when referring to a suicide implies that the deceased is guilty of committing a crime or a sin. Replace the phrase “committed suicide” with “died by suicide,” “took their life,” or “completed suicide.”
  • Report on suicide as a public health concern. Be sure to include risk factors of suicide, warning signs, trends in rates, recent treatment advances, and seek advice from prevention experts. Always include national and local suicide prevention resources.
  • Avoid reporting that a death by suicide was preceded by a single event, such as a recent job loss, divorce, or bullying. Reporting like this leaves the public with an overly simplistic and misleading understanding of suicide.
  • When reporting on suicide, be sure to include the Suicide Prevention Lifeline number 800-273-TALK (8255) or other reputable suicide prevention resources.
  • Avoid misinformation and offer hope. Add statement(s) about the many treatment options available, stories of those who overcame a suicidal crisis, and resources for help.

For additional best practices, visit: nimh.nih.gov or reportingonsuicide.org

Source: Reporting on Suicide 2015