How to Talk to Someone Who Is Suicidal

You may be nervous about talking to a loved one who is suicidal, but it’s riskier not to talk about it. You can learn more about how to talk to someone who is suicidal and open the most important doors to healing. Now is the time to help them get treatment. Don’t wait.

In the event of a crisis, please call an emergency service such as 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) immediately.

Which approach is more likely to contribute to the risk of suicide: Talking about it? Or not talking about it?

You might be hesitant, even fearful, of talking to someone about their suicidal thoughts because of a concern that it will plant a destructive seed in their mind. But the seed is already there. In fact, the risk of suicide is greater when we don’t talk about it openly. Consider that the seed of suicidal ideation thrives under conditions of loneliness and darkness and the original mental health disorder. Neglect of these issues actually furthers those dangerous possibilities.

The person you’re concerned about needs the right kind of help and attention. While it is the right thing to invite conversation about what they are going through, there are right and wrong ways to approach the issues. But you can learn how to talk to someone who is suicidal. With empathy, forward-thinking perspective, and support from mental health professionals, you can help guide your loved one to begin healing their inner landscape. And, eventually, they’ll plant positive seeds for the future.

Understanding Exactly How to Talk to Someone Who Is Suicidal

Remember, it’s better to nurture an open and honest line of communication with someone who is suicidal than to leave their thoughts and feelings to simply follow their existing course. Before you reach out to them for a conversation, prepare your own mindset. Be ready to angle your approach with these ideas in mind:

They are:

They are not:

  • In pain
  • In need of compassion, understanding, and real support
  • Doing their best from where they are
  • Wrong or broken
  • Guilty
  • A burden

Look out for an opportunity when there isn’t a lot of additional stress; the more both of you can focus on the issues at hand, the better. Also look out for a place to have the conversation where they feel most comfortable. When you do initiate a conversation, don’t try to tell them about what they’re feeling or what’s wrong with them. Tell them about some of the things you notice. You might tell them:

  • “You’ve seemed really down lately. Can we talk about it?”
  • “I’ve noticed that you aren’t taking part in the things you’ve always loved to do.”

But, most importantly, be ready to listen. It’s a mistake to think that what they need is a lecture. Trying to make them see that their reasoning is flawed or that they are letting others down or stressing others out will only apply more unhelpful pressure. If they are not yet ready to talk, you can at least make it clear that you’re ready when they are. You can also remind them that there is a way out of this low place.

When they do begin to open up and share their thoughts and feelings, it can be an opportunity to discover some important details about their experience. At this point, it’s okay to speak more directly about the nature of their depressive and suicidal thoughts. Remember: this is where they are coming from already. You are not introducing brand new ideas if you ask them questions about the direction and severity of their darker ideation.

  • “Have you thought about hurting yourself?”
  • “Do you have a plan?”

In fact, they’ve likely spent time feeling rather isolated in this mental and emotional space. For you to be willing to step into that darkness with them, for the time being, is a much more likely and helpful scenario than expecting them to rise up to meet you where you are.

You’re opening a door. You can’t force them through it, but you can encourage them to take small steps forward. You can welcome them to accept support that is understanding and unconditionally compassionate.

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When It's Time to Get Treatment for Suicidal Thoughts

Another incredibly helpful option is to help them reach out to a counselor or therapist. This is someone not already connected to your friend or family member’s daily life. A therapist is not only knowledgeable and experienced with suicidal ideation and mental health issues in general; they are also in a good position to listen without judgment. Their only goal is to help this person find the resources and the strength they need to process their pain successfully and reclaim their hope and purpose.

In fact, this path of professional treatment should be the goal when talking to your loved one who is suicidal, regardless. If someone is thinking about or attempting suicide, they undoubtedly have a critical psychological and emotional imbalance that requires very urgent treatment. Listening to them and demonstrating your support are extremely important steps. But these gestures alone are not sufficient to lift the dangerous burdens of mental illness.

Even if you are still unsure of how to talk to someone who is suicidal, calling a treatment center for advice is your next best step. By now, you know that doing nothing is the wrong path. Even small steps in the right direction are helping to mitigate the dangers of suicide for your loved one.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for mental health disorders as well as process addictions and phase of life issues. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to healing.

In the event of a crisis, please call an emergency service such as 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) immediately.