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How to help

Whether you’re currently concerned for a loved one or want to prepare for future situations, learn how to start the conversation, create a safety plan and find help.

Please keep in mind that this information does not replace seeking professional help or advice from your doctor.

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Starting the conversation

Asking someone about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push them to do something self-destructive. In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal thoughts. Be sensitive but direct. 

How to start

Before starting a conversation with someone you are concerned about, be sure to have suicide crisis resources on hand.

Find a private place to talk where there won’t be any distractions and set aside plenty of time to have a conversation. If possible, try to find a comfortable place where you both can sit.

Let the person know why you asked to speak with them. For example, “I’ve noticed that you quit the baseball team and have no interest in participating in the things you once enjoyed. I’m concerned about you, what’s going on?”

Listen, express concern, reassure

Try to get as much information as possible by asking open-ended questions. For example, “You seem down lately, how have things been going at school?” or “Tell me more about how you are feeling.”

Listen to what they have to say and reassure them that you are listening by summarizing their response. For example, “It sounds like things at home have been really stressful, and you are worried about your slipping grades.”

Validate their feelings and provide them with support. For example, Thank you so much for sharing with me. It sounds like things have been really tough for you lately, no wonder you have felt so stressed. Please know that I’m concerned for you and that there’s help to get you through this.” 

Follow your gut. If you feel like they may be having thoughts of suicide, be direct and ask the question. For example, “Have you ever felt so badly that you think about suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Asking these questions will not put the idea in their head or make it more likely that they will attempt.

If they say yes, stay with them. Connect them either to an adult, a mental health professional, or if they are in immediate danger to themselves or others, call 911. If you are unsure how to locate a mental health professional, text or call 988.

What not to say

“You aren’t thinking of killing yourself, are you?” Phrasing the question in this way sets them up to say no, even if they are having suicidal thoughts.

“How could you be so selfish? Don’t you know how hurt your family would be if you killed yourself?” Making someone feel guilty will only add to their pain. Instead, instill hope and focus on assisting them in finding help.

Never promise to keep a suicide plan a secret. You may be concerned that they will be upset with you, but when someone’s life is at risk, it is more important to ensure their safety.

Get help

If they have not made a suicide plan or thought about a method, provide them with resources and help them locate a mental health professional and call to make an appointment as soon as possible. Consider offering to take them to their initial appointment. Follow up with them regularly and stay involved in their recovery process. Continue to be supportive, compassionate and encouraging.

If they have made a suicide plan and have access to lethal means (means are any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt, such as pills or a handgun), help remove the means from their access and don’t leave them alone. You may need help with this from family or law enforcement. Never put yourself in danger. If you are concerned about your own safety, or feel that they are at an immediate risk, call 911.

Create a safety plan

Create a plan to keep them safe until they are able to meet with a mental health professional. This may include means removal, abstaining from alcohol or drugs, creating a list of people they can call if they are having suicidal thoughts, connecting them with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and getting a verbal commitment that they will not act on their suicidal feelings.

You are not alone

If you or a loved one are experiencing mental health problems or suicidal thoughts, we’re here to help you learn more about local and national resources and to find help. 

Explore hotlines, inpatient facilities and community resources for yourself, a friend or a family member in crisis.