WHEN & WHERE. If you feel like they are at a high risk of hurting or killing themselves the time to act is now. If it is a quickly impending or immediate danger you will want to call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). However, the comforting thing is if you are starting to see warning signs in people you are connected to then you most likely will be able to chat with them before they are fully in crisis mode. In person and in a private, comfortable environment is always the best place. Set up a time soon to bring them dinner or go out to a quiet coffee shop, some place that is familiar to you both. Often warning signs show up online through social media posts and if this is the case the best thing to do is send them a private message expressing your concern for them while asking them to hang out soon or possibly start the conversation over instant message. Each situation is a little different, but the key is to act soon and pick a setting that is comfortable and familiar. If they are reluctant to meet with you assure them that you just want to be there for them. In the unlikely case they refuse to talk or meet provide them with the Lifeline number or other resources from our page.
HOW NOT TO ASK. There are more right ways than wrong ways to ask, but unfortunately the wrong way is often our initial reaction. “You aren’t thinking about killing yourself, are you?” or “You wouldn’t do anything crazy, would you?” are expressing your concern but they are also putting up huge walls. You are trying to stack the odds in your favor and get the ‘no’ answer you so desperately want to hear. They are questions that pass judgement before the conversation truly starts. If the person is thinking about suicide they just learned you don’t really want to talk about their thoughts or plans. To put it in a different perspective, if you were concerned that your friend was dating someone bad for them you shouldn’t ask, “You are not going to keep dating them, are you?” That is a first class ticket out of the discussion. Instead you would ask, “I have been concerned about your relationship, can we talk about it?”
IF YOU CAN’T ASK. Although the question itself can be nerve-wracking I assure you that after you ask it the rest of the conversation will feel relieving and more driven no matter the response. If you see warning signs and absolutely positively cannot bring yourself to ask the question you NEED to find someone who can. Find someone else they are comfortable talking with or who is also concerned to ask. Never assume someone else will ask. If you see the warning signs or heard them say something of concern you may be the only one. We often feel that someone else is closer to the person or has a better rapport with them, but in times of struggle other relationships might be in strain or seem unapproachable to them.
IF THEY SAY NO. You’ve expressed your concern, asked the question, and they say they aren’t thinking about suicide. Wonderful. Then this is the perfect opportunity to continue talking about what led you to ask, let them know you are there for them, and discuss how they are working through their current life situations. You can still suggest other helpful resources (ex. support groups, counseling) and let them know you will continue to be of support. You have also let them know that if they are ever struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm you are a person they can talk to. As the conversation continues you may also find out that the true answer was yes and they just weren’t ready to reveal the information until further in the conversation.
IF THEY SAY YES. They express that they are indeed having thoughts about suicide. Now your job is to listen, not judge, and help them work backwards through a few open ended questions. “How long have you been having these thoughts?” or “Can you tell me how this started?” are great ways to keep the conversation going. Remember as they talk about their problems your job is not to solve them or diminish them. Your job is to listen. “Wow. That sounds really hard.” or “I have no idea what that must feel like, but I am sure it has been very difficult.” are statements that allow them to feel heard.
PLANS. They may not have made any plans and are just struggling with the thoughts. If it hasn’t come up yet but you are concerned they have consider the idea further this would be a good time to ask about potential plans. “Have you thought about how or when?” It may feel like an invasive question, but it allows you to know how far their thinking has gone and potentially safeguard them. For instance if they mention a specific date make sure they are not alone on that date. If they mention a certain method (ex. handgun) you can ask them to entrust you with that item until they are feeling better. Make sure to never put yourself in danger and call emergency services if there is an immediate danger.
NEXT STEPS. From here it is important to connect them to further help and become part of a support team for them. Work together to look for potentially helpful counseling or support groups. You can even call and help them make appointments, planning to take them there or meet for coffee afterwards. Ask who else might be helpful that they trust (ex. sibling, mentor, pastor, doctor). Continue to follow up with them and check-in on progress while also letting them know you care. It is important to know that when someone is deep in suicidal thoughts they may not feel like their problems are solvable in any other way, but your consistent care may provide the hope for other ways out of this. It is also a good idea to provide other resources, such as the Lifeline, knowing that you won’t always be available to them and that you aren’t the only one who can help.
YOU. Take care of yourself after such a conversation. In fact, treat yourself. It might feel odd, but self care is so important after something like this. Perhaps get yourself some ice cream and take time to decompress. Also always remember that even if the other person ends up hurting themselves or ending their life your support was still important and done in good faith. If this does happen make sure to seek help and support for yourself. However, always remember any form of hope provided almost always allows people to see outside of their situations, seek other solutions, and begin to work on the issues that trouble them.
IF YOU'RE STRUGGLING. No matter who you are or where you are know this… you have a community. You have people who you have been positively impacted by you. You have people you can count on. You have people that would want to be there for you, even in the darkest of times. If you are personally struggling right now or having suicidal thoughts you too need to know it is okay to ask for help. Even if it feels like you have no other way out we assure you hope is possible. Reach out to a friend you can count on or call an anonymous hotline (1-800-273-TALK) or other resource.
NEVER ALONE. No one deserves to feel alone and, in truth, no one ever is. If you are concerned about someone or yourself, whether it’s about suicide or just a difficult season, the time to reach out is now. Everyone, be assured you matter and your genuine effort can bring hope into any situation.