Just that question alone can bring dread to anyone wanting to ask that question. But why? It is because the realization of asking a question makes anyone uncomfortable. But that shouldn’t be the case. Asking if someone is thinking of suicide is a hopeful moment in someone’s life. It brings connection to someone who felt lonely. But how can we talk to someone who might be thinking of suicide?
First off, get yourself ready for a response you didn’t want to hear. This will help avoid unnecessary responses such as “Why would you even think of that?” Last thing you want to do is shame someone for having those thoughts. This person has been feeling pain, loneliness and perhaps feeling like they are a burden to others. Reacting in a critical way can only make those feelings seem valid. Hearing a loved one in pain can cause us to feel pain but that’s the power of empathy. Use that empathy to hear the person out. This person has been enduring for a long time. Them opening up to you is their turning moment.
Next, avoid stigmatizing language. Avoid words like crazy or lunatic. The person already has enough going on. Giving them a negative label only adds to those negative thoughts. Instead, find ways to bring hope. If someone opened up to you about their suicidal ideation or intent, it is because they have hope of still living. Use kind language. Find the bravery in the person. You can mention how they brave they are for opening up about such a topic. It can have a lasting effect on them.
Third, make an action plan. This will keep the person safe. Ask them if they have a plan on how to end their life. If they do, try to get rid of those means. Suicide watch is important as this is when the person is most vulnerable. If needed, contact a crisis intervention team to assist your loved one on finding safety as they ride through this moment. If it is dire and you feel the person needs to get immediate help, contact emergency services. This might feel like a betrayal to their trust but it is not. Their safety is a priority. This can help them also find resources they might have been missing.
This is just a brief mention on how to handle a person that is thinking about suicide. If you would like formal training, there are programs dedicated to training people on how to assist those who are thinking of suicide. A quick Google search of these following terms can help: safeTALK or ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training), or LivingWorks.
And overall, take preventive measures. Check regularly on your friends and loved ones. Learn the signs of suicide. Learn about what your community and county has to offer when it comes to mental health resources. Look up articles on different mental health topics. This will help to be a bridge between loved one and the resources needed.