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Suicide Prevention Awareness Month: What to Say to a Loved One Contemplating Suicide

Sep 8, 2022

It’s not easy to see a loved one struggling with their mental health. And if the person is considering harming themselves, you may feel lost on how you can support them while still prioritizing their safety. Conversations about suicide are vulnerable, heavy, and difficult to initiate, but they can make all the difference in saving your loved one’s life.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time to acknowledge the widespread effects of suicide and all those whose lives have been impacted by it, whether directly or indirectly. Suicidal thoughts can happen to anyone, and they’re often the result of untreated mental health conditions. The Training Institute regularly offers training modules on how to have tough conversations with a loved one in danger, and Director Russ Turner offers some guidance on how to navigate this emotional topic.

Turner and other trainers at the Training Institute recommend proceeding with a four-question approach:

  1. Are you thinking about suicide?
    1. Be strong, clear, and confident in this language. Don’t shy away from the word “suicide,” however scary and emotional it may feel. Similarly, don’t ask a leading question like, “You wouldn’t do anything stupid, would you?” You want to leave the question open-ended and free of any judgment that may cause them to close off. Additionally, in saying the word “suicide” out loud, it amplifies something your loved one may not have verbalized yet. It enhances the severity of the word and could help them think more clearly about their intentions.

After asking this first question, no matter their answer, this is a great time to explain why you’re asking and express your care for them. You can use sentences that start with, “I’ve noticed [blank] behavior…” or “You have seemed more stressed/distant lately.”

Then, if they said yes to question 1, you can follow up with the remaining three questions of the four-question approach:

  1. How would you do it?
  2. When would you do it?
  3. What steps have you taken to carry out your plan?

Though inquiring about such emotional details can make you uncomfortable, it is crucial to probe your loved one to see how much effort they’ve put into making their plan. Asking them about their plan does not lead them to think more determinedly about suicide – it just gives you a better idea of the severity of their intent and whether or not you need to consult outside resources for support.

In this scenario, it is important to let your loved ones know that they are loved and their presence valued. After discussing all of the above, statements like the ones below can make a huge difference:

  • “This is serious.”
  • “This is important.”
  • “Thank you for being able to tell me that. You’re really brave.”
  • “I’m sorry you are in so much pain.”

You can even ask your loved one, “How do you feel now that you have said that out loud?” You can be a crucial part of their mental health processing, and by being a caring, listening ear, you could make a major difference in their life.

There are many obstacles that may get in the way of having this conversation with your loved one, like fear, helplessness, or respect for boundaries. It is an ambitious feat, but even in combination with a conversation like this one, there are many resources you can turn to and connect your loved one with if you don’t feel ready to ask the four questions yourself. The bottom line is that help is out there, and you don’t have to go it alone.

You can take the first step of action by sharing this conversation guide or any of the resources below:

  • Your loved one may qualify for crisis care at People Incorporated. Call 651-774-0011 to speak to our Central Access Contact Center team about bed availability and qualifications.
  • You can bring your loved one to the nearest emergency room. A doctor and a social worker will evaluate your loved one and offer some next steps.
  • Call or text 9-8-8, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
  • Text “MN” to 741741, the Minnesota Crisis Text Line
  • Call 800-273-TALK (8255), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
  • Visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Chat