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How to ask someone about thoughts of suicide

Published Feb. 6, 2024Young man and teen talking at a table.

Talking about suicide can be scary. Your Life Iowa can help you have that conversation with a loved one to help keep them safe.

You may be afraid of saying the wrong thing or making a situation worse.

Research shows that asking about suicide doesn’t increase the chances that someone will act on their thoughts. It can actually provide a sense of relief and make it possible to have a life-saving conversation.

When asking someone about thoughts of suicide, it’s important to be direct and clear. Ask “Are you thinking about suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Referring to it indirectly can cause miscommunication or make someone hesitant to bring up suicide. It may feel awkward, but it ensures you have the correct information to help them.

If they express that they’ve had thoughts of suicide, it’s important to take it seriously. Determine whether or not the person is in imminent danger of acting on the suicidal feelings. Ask questions about whether or not they have attempted suicide before, if they have a current suicide plan and if they have access to lethal means. If the danger is imminent or someone has already attempted suicide, call 911 immediately.

If someone has thoughts of suicide but has not made a suicide attempt or is in imminent danger, get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible. This can include a school counselor, the person’s doctor, an emergency room professional or Your Life Iowa. Your Life Iowa counselors are trained in suicide intervention and prevention and can help guide you through a suicidal crisis.

Follow up with on-going care. Suicidal thoughts can be treated. There are care options including medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, addiction treatment and family support. If someone doesn’t want to work with a mental health professional, suggest finding a support group, crisis center, faith community, teacher or other trusted person for support. Your Life Iowa can help you brainstorm support options and connect with resources in your community.

If you are having thoughts of suicide or are concerned about someone else, Your Life Iowa can help. Our caring professionals are here to text, talk or chat online when you need it most.