How to Start a Conversation About Suicide


How to Start a Conversation About Suicide

Suicide is a difficult topic to discuss, for all parties involved. There’s lots of stigma associated with suicide and mental health issues, and many people don’t feel safe expressing their true feelings.

Too often, people feel like they can’t talk about suicide because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing or making things worse. However, with suicide being the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, it’s crucial that you speak up if you sense someone isn’t okay.

By starting a conversation about suicide, you can help save someone’s life. In this article, you will learn how to identify suicidal ideation in a friend or loved one, and how to approach the subject with empathy.

Identifying Signs of Suicidal Ideation

Suicidal ideation refers to thinking about or making plans for suicide. It’s important to remember that suicidal ideation is not the same as wanting to die. Many people who experience suicidal ideation are actually looking for a way out of their pain but don’t know how to ask for help.

Common Signs

If you know that a friend, loved one, or someone else you may know is struggling with depression, trauma, or other mental health issues, you may be worried about them. If you suspect that they may be considering suicide, here are some warning signs to look out for:

  • Talking about wanting to die or hurting themselves.
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness, despair, or being trapped.
  • Talking about being a burden to others, or that others would be better off without them.
  • Increased dangerous or self-destructive behavior, such as alcohol or drug abuse, reckless driving, or having unsafe sex.
  • Withdrawing from friends and activities.
  • Sudden changes in personality, habits, sleep schedule, or hygiene, such as sleeping a lot more or less than usual or neglecting personal appearance.
  • Sudden calmness or cheerfulness after a long period of moodiness or depression.
  • Making unusual arrangements that point toward a planned death or disappearance, such as giving away prized possessions, making a will, visiting friends and family members, or buying a gun.

Common Situational Factors

It’s also important to take into account some situational elements that may trigger suicidal thoughts, such as:

  • A recent traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one.
  • A history of mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or PTSD.
  • A history of financial, legal, or personal problems that may cause them to desire an escape.
  • Alcohol or substance abuse problems.

While most people aren’t going to show all these signs, many of them will show at least a few. If you recognize any of these signs in someone you know, it’s a good idea to check in on them.

How To Check In With Someone You’re Worried About

In many cases, it’s much easier to spot the signs of depression and suicidal ideation than it is to talk about it. The following are some tips on how to approach a loved one with your concerns.

Choosing the Right Context

When you talk to someone about a sensitive subject, it’s best to do it in a situation they feel comfortable in. No one wants to talk about their private, personal feelings at a party with a bunch of people they just met or even in a public place where strangers may eavesdrop.

Some good places to start a conversation are:

  • At Their Home: Make sure that just the two of you or, at most, a few close friends or family members are present. This way, you are in an environment they can control and feel safe in.
  • When You’re Doing Something They Enjoy: Sometimes it’s easier to approach heavy conversations in light situations, like while you’re playing video games or watching rom-coms.
  • During a Walk or a Drive: Walking and driving are both contexts where there’s a low-stress background activity you can focus on during lulls in the conversation. They are also activities where you are side-by-side with the person, instead of directly facing them. Both of these factors can help someone relax and feel less pressured, which can help them talk more freely.
  • Online: If you’re worried about someone you know online, you can always send them a private message. Don’t confront them where everyone else can see, like a comment on a social media post or in a group chat.

How To Open the Conversation

Opening the conversation is one of the most crucial parts of the process, so it’s important to get it right. You don’t want to make someone feel cornered or uncomfortable.

You never want to be too blunt or direct, as this can feel accusatory or make someone shut down. Oftentimes, it’s best to start softly, and then, if they seem receptive, gently guide the conversation to mental health. Here are some ways you can open the conversation:

  • Ask Them How They’re Doing: They might respond with a generic “good” or “fine.” From there, you may want to ask how they’re really doing, or say you’ve noticed they haven’t been acting like themselves lately.
  • Talk About Negative Things in Your Life: While this may seem counterintuitive, this may help someone feel more open about sharing negative feelings and experiences in their own life. You can say something like, “Wow, work has been really draining lately. What about you?”
  • Ask Them About a Specific Aspect of Their Life: For example, you can say, “How’s work going?” or “How’s it going with your boyfriend/girlfriend?” This will give them some structure that can be used as a jumping off point to talk about more serious subjects.

Key Pointers

Throughout the conversation, it’s important to stay empathetic and open so they feel comfortable speaking to you.

Always remember to:

  • Keep an Open, Non-Judgemental Attitude: Even if you don’t relate to something they’re saying, you should always attempt to stay empathetic and see things through their eyes. Validate their feelings by saying things like, “That sounds very difficult,” or “I understand why you feel this way.”
  • Focus on Listening, Not Fixing: Remember, the most important thing at this stage is to show them that you care and that you are there for them. Don’t offer advice unless they ask, and focus on absorbing and remembering what they’re saying. You can help them know you’re listening by restating what they’re communicating. For example, you could say, “It sounds like you feel [explain what you think they feel like based on what they told you]” or “So [restate the event they were talking about]? That sounds very difficult. I’m sorry that happened.” This can also help them clarify in case you misunderstood something.
  • Respect Their Boundaries: If it seems like they don’t want to talk about a certain event or feeling, don’t push them too hard. Conversations like this leave people in a very vulnerable place, and it’s important that they feel in control of how much they reveal. You can reaffirm their control by saying things like, “You don’t have to share anything you don’t want to, but could you explain more about [event, feeling, or something else they shared]?” or “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it.”

Let Them Know There’s Hope

If someone has opened up to you and has expressed they feel suicidal, it’s important that they know they have support available. Make sure you tell them that you’re always available for them, or direct them to resources where they can get more help.

There are many practices who specialize in helping people with suicidal ideation. Traditional therapy and medication may be effective, but there are also other options for people who have tried those things and haven’t experienced much of a positive effect. For example, therapeutic usage of ketamine has proven to have a 70% success rate against depression. To learn more about how ketamine treatments help suicidal ideation, visit Ketamin Infusions of Idaho’s website. 

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