Ask the Question
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. 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 them 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