If you notice a concerning warning sign in a loved one, reach out. "Are you thinking of ending your life?" Few phrases are as difficult to say to a loved one. When it comes to suicide prevention, no phrase is more important. Here are some ways to get the conversation started.
Start the conversation
Mention the signs that prompted you to ask about suicide. This makes it clear that you are not asking "out of the blue," and makes it more difficult for the person to deny that something is bothering them.
Ask directly about suicide. Talking about suicide does NOT put the idea in someone's head and usually they are relieved. Asking directly and using the word "suicide" establishes that you and the person at risk are talking about the same thing and lets the person know that you are willing to talk about suicide.
“Are you thinking of ending your life?” You may phrase the question in a different way, and that’s ok. If they answer "yes" to your direct question about suicide stay calm, and don't leave the person alone until further help is obtained. Call 9-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Listen and Reassure
Listen to the reasons the person has for both living and dying. Validate that they are considering both options and underscore that living is an option for them. "I can imagine how tough this must be for you. I understand when you say that you aren't sure if you want to live or die. But have you always wanted to die? Well, maybe there's a chance you won't feel this way forever. I can help.”
Let the person know you care. Letting them know that you take their situation seriously, and you are genuinely concerned about them, will go a long way in your effort to support them.
"I'm deeply concerned about you and I want you to know that help is available to get you through this."
Create a safety plan
Reach out for resources
Provide the person with the resources you have come prepared with. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime at 1-800-273-8255.
If you feel the situation is critical, take the person to a nearby Emergency Room or walk-in psychiatric crisis clinic or call 9-1-1. "I understand if it feels awkward to go see a counselor. But there is a phone number we can call to talk to somebody. Maybe they can help?"
Ask the person if they have access to any lethal means (weapons, medications, etc) and help remove them from the vicinity. (Another friend, family member or law enforcement agent may be needed to assist with this.)Do not put yourself in danger; if you are concerned about your own safety, call 911.
Create a safety plan together. Ask the person what will help keep them safe until they meet with a professional. “Is there someone you can call if you think you may act on your thoughts of suicide?"
Ask the person if they will refrain from using alcohol and other drugs or agree to have someone monitor their use. "Will you promise me that you will not drink or at least have someone monitor your drinking until we can get you help?"
Get a verbal commitment that the person will not act upon thoughts of suicide until they have met with a professional. "Please promise me that you will not harm yourself or act on any thoughts of suicide until you meet with a professional."