How and when we talk about suicide can save lives. Here are some DOs and DON’Ts.
Do: Say he died by suicide or he ended his/her/their life.
Don’t: Say he/she/they committed suicide. We do not want to criminalize mental health crises.
Do: Say it was an attempted suicide.
Don’t: Say it was an unsuccessful suicide. We don’t want to make someone in a mental health crisis feel worse.
Do: Speak to youth about suicide. In recent years, rates of death by suicide and suicidal thinking have increased in young people. Asking about suicide may be a relief for people of all ages. If your child has a mental health condition, it’s important to check-in with them about suicidal thoughts.
Don’t: Be afraid to speak about suicide with youth. Many parents and caregivers are wary of asking a child if they have suicidal thoughts, intentions or plans. They may be afraid that starting the conversation may cause suicidal behavior, but this connection has proven to be false.
Do: Speak to loved ones who struggle with suicidal ideation openly and with compassion. Let them know that they can talk with you about what they’re going through. Make sure that you adopt an open and compassionate mindset when they’re talking. Try active listening techniques such as reflecting their feelings and summarizing their thoughts. This can help your loved one feel heard and validated.
Don’t: Argue, threaten, or raise your voice. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong. Don’t try to disprove any negative statements they make (“Your life isn’t that bad!”).
Do: Know when to talk about suicide. Listen for when a loved one is expressing suicidal thoughts, either through explicit statements such as “I want to die” or more vague statements such as “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
Don’t: Agree to keep a youth’s suicidal thoughts secret. Even if they don’t want anyone else to know, it is important to get help if you are truly afraid that they will hurt themselves. Getting help could involve letting their family know about the crisis, unless you have a clear reason to think that will make things worse (for example, they have shared that their parents do not support them or they have been mistreated or experienced rejection at home). If you in a school environment, let the crisis team, residence life staff or counseling service know you are worried about your friend.
Do: Gently suggest professional help. Let loved ones experiencing suicidal thoughts know that mental health professionals are trained to help people understand their feelings and improve mental wellness and resiliency. Psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, can help a person with thoughts of suicide recognize ineffective patterns of thinking and behavior, validate their feelings and learn coping skills. Suicidal thoughts are a symptom, just like any other — they can be treated, and they can improve over time. Suicide is not the answer. There is hope.
Do: Offer to get help. Calmly ask simple and direct questions, like “Can I help you call your psychiatrist or the crisis line?” If there are multiple people around, have one person speak at a time.
Don’t: Be afraid to ask direct questions about suicide. It is okay to express support and concern and ask if a person has a suicide plan. You can directly ask, “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?” More: How to Talk (and Listen To) Someone Experiencing Suicidal Thoughts (NAMI blog post)
Do: Express support and concern and tell the person you are care about them.
Don’t: Argue, threaten or raise your voice.
More: NAMI’s Navigating a Mental Health Crisis: A NAMI Resource Guide for Those Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency.