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Communication Tips About Suicide

Suicide is hard to talk about, and most of us don't have a lot of practice. Here are some tips for talking about suicide.

Do's and Don't's
How to talk to someone you're worried about

 

Do's and Don't's

Don't:

  • Glorify or romanticize suicide. Some can find attention and sympathy directed toward a victim of suicide to be appealing, so it is best to avoid making suicide seem like an attractive option.
  • Normalize suicide. Don't treat suicide as common or normal. People experiencing suicidal ideation need to know that this is a problem that warrants seeking help, and not normal.
  • Attribute suicide to a single cause or treat it as inexplicable. Try not to cultivate the idea that suicide can be caused by a single incident, such as a breakup or stress, or that suicide is just something that happens. If people think a single incident can cause someone to attempt suicide, they may more readily consider suicide a viable option. Suicide is complex, but it is also preventable.
  • Focus on details. Getting into the details of a suicide can lead to people identifying with the lives of those lost to suicide, and to consider suicide themselves. Describing methods can also cause people to consider suicide by the same means.

Do:

  • Encourage help-seeking behavior. Suicide is preventable, as long as people know help is available. Let people know about the Suicide Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and other local resources. Click here for resources.
  • Emphasize prevention. Suicide is preventable, and suicidal ideation is treatable. Promote resources and encourage people to use them.
  • Emphasize the effectiveness of treatment. Treatment exists, and it works. For every suicide death, 1000 people get help and get better.
  • Include warning signs of suicide and depression. Knowing the signs can help people to realize what they're experiencing isn't normal, and that they should reach out and seek treatment.

Adapted from SPRC's Safe and Effective Messaging for Suicide Prevention (Click here)

 

How to talk to someone you're worried about

  1. Speak to them privately in a space where they feel comfortable. You are more likely to have a frank, open discussion if they feel comfortable and safe.
  2. Ask them if they're okay. It is possible they have been waiting for someone to ask, and this will initiate the discussion. If not...
  3. If necessary, tell them about your observations and why you are worried. Explain to them the warning signs of depression or suicidal ideation and the behavior you've recognized in them that concerns you. If you think they are considering suicide, ask them directly. Contrary to some beliefs, asking about suicide doesn't make someone more likely to consider it. If the person is already considering suicide, it's necessary to know so you can help them. Click here for information on suicide myths and truths.
    • If they are suicidal, or at risk of inflicting self-harm or harm on others, don't leave them alone. If you do not feel equipped to handle a situation on your own, call 911. Ask them if they have a plan and a date so you can tell authorities.
  4. Listen nonjudgmentally. If you have judged the situation to be safe, ask them about how they're feeling and how long they've felt that way. Avoid reacting negatively to whatever they have to tell you, as this will discourage them from talking to you.
  5. Be supportive, and offer support and help. Let them know you support them, and tell them about resources, such as the Counseling and Testing Center and COMCARE. Click here for resources.

Want to learn more about how to address suicide and other mental health conditions? Consider taking Mental Health First Aid (click here) or Kognito At-Risk for Faculty and Staff (click here).