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Tough Conversations: How to Talk About Suicide

Suicide is a complex issue, and we all have a role in minimizing risks, not only for ourselves but for others. Knowing where to start the conversation can be hard and can seem like a daunting task, however, having tough conversations can save someone’s life. The following are some tips when approaching someone you’ve recognized “acting outside their norm” and may need help.

Start the conversation.

  • Space: It is important to consider where and when is the right time to talk to someone about the issues he or she may be facing. Be intentional. Ask if you can step outside or go somewhere private for a conversation.
  • Permission: Asking for permission is very important. You can’t demand they tell you what is going on, but you can ask. “Do you mind if I ask about some of the things I am seeing and am concerned about? If you don’t want to, can I help get you connected to someone you are willing to talk to?”

Lay a supportive foundation.

  • Express your support: Tell the individual why you are concerned. “You don’t seem like yourself, and I’ve noticed you seem anxious. What’s going on?”
  • Ask for some background: “Tell me about how you are feeling. How long have you been feeling like this or been having these issues?”
  • Check your bias at the door: This is not about you. This is about the individual you are concerned about. Don’t try to jump in with examples of how you or someone have overcame a similar issue. Don’t minimize their problem. Listen. Sit with them and try to see it from their perspective. 

Ask the BIG questions.

  • “Are you having thoughts about hurting yourself?”
  • “Are you thinking about or have you thought about killing yourself?”

Show you care with actions and words.

  • Summarize what you’ve been told and offer support: By summarizing what the person shared, you show you were listening and understand where the person stands. 
  • Connect with help: Once you have a basic understanding of the issue and what the individual is willing to try, you can connect that person to help. You can take the person to see a chaplain, set up an appointment at the Community Counseling Program for the person, walk the individual into the office, or call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1 or the DSTRESS Line at 877-476-7734. 

Follow through with the person.

  • Check In: Be sure to check back in with this individual in the days/weeks/months to come. Check in often, and follow the same strategy as before. Make the individual feel confident about opening up to you. Let the person know that you are there for any future issues the person may face.

Tough conversations can make a huge difference. Be courageous, and start the conversation. Ask. Listen. Support. You could save a life.

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