Is it really OK to ask about suicide?  Really?  YESASK Already.

People thinking of suicide are conflicted and in a lot of pain.  They want to talk about the situation, but they don’t know if you want to hear it.  They send off warning signs sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly, because they want to stay alive.  They are waiting for you to bring it up.

People thinking of suicide are waiting for you to ask:  Ask directly; ask clearly; ask it again until you’re sure you believe the answer.

People tell me, “That seems harsh”.  “It feels very intrusive”  “I’m too awkward to just outright ask”.

So let me tell you – when you ask directly about suicide in a caring way, people will answer you honestly and directly.   Often people are relieved to have an opportunity to talk about their pain.  Besides – what’s the worst that could happen?  You’re embarrassed?  How does that compare with saving a person’s life?

So, let me help you out.  There is a formula you can use that will simplify everything.  I call it the “no dodge” question.  Make sure your questions is:

  1.  In the present tense – right now are you thinking of suicide?
  2. A Yes or no question – this is not the time to discuss the politics of suicide.  Yes or no – do you want to kill yourself?
  3. Using the word “suicide” or “kill yourself” – Euphemisms are not helpful here.  Asking directly tells the person you are willing to talk about suicide.

Here is an example:

“You are very upset about this [breakup, job loss, mistake whatever the problem is].  Sometimes when people experience this type of loss, they think of suicide.  Are you thinking of suicide?”

One more thing – asking about suicide will NOT plant the seed.  Not asking about suicide puts the person’s life at greater risk.

Once the person is talking with you, get help.  Call your local crisis line or the national suicide prevention hotline.  Here are some more resources to help you out.

National Suicide Prevention Hotlines
1-800 273-TALK (273-8255) press 1 for Veteran support
1-800- Suicide (784-2433) press 1 for Veteran support
1-866- 4U Trevor (488-7386) – GLBT support

On-line Resources (on-line chat available)