How to Talk About Suicide
by Amy Barczy
| 4 min read
Suicide is a topic that often makes people uncomfortable and fearful that talking about it will only lead to an attempt or a negative outcome. The opposite is true: experts say it’s important to have conversations about suicide to open a line of communication. While there were 1.4 million suicide attempts in 2019, 12 million Americans seriously thought about suicide. Which means a conversation with someone could make a big difference. Suicide is preventable, and everyone has a role to play. Use objective language when talking about suicide, including phrases like “died by suicide” or “ended their life.” The phrase “committed suicide” has negative associations – and implies the person died in a criminal or sinful way.
How to talk to someone about their feelings
If you’re concerned about someone who may be showing warning signs of suicide, talk to them. Open the conversation by saying you’ve been concerned about them. Ask them questions to understand their risk of suicide, while being calm and sympathetic:
- Has there been a recent change in your life? How are you coping with what’s been happening?
- Do you ever feel like just giving up?
- Are you thinking about dying?
- Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Are you thinking about suicide?
- Have you thought about how or when you’d do it?
- Have you ever thought about suicide before, or tried to harm yourself before?
- Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?
If you feel the person is in immediate danger, don’t leave them alone and stay with them until they are safe and you get help – either by calling 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. If the person is not in immediate danger, encourage them to get professional help – and make a plan to follow up with them in the future.
How to talk about suicide with children and teens
Often, we learn about people who have died by suicide through the news. Whether it’s a celebrity or an individual we know personally who has taken their own life, the news is often shocking and hard to process. Our brains spiral through questions of “why?” But everyone has their own inner fears and thoughts, and it can be impossible to understand what others are fully going through internally. For individuals ages 10-34 years old, suicide was the second leading cause of death in 2018. This means for older children and young adults, it’s likely that they’ll encounter someone in their school or friend group that dies by suicide – which makes it even more important for parents and caregivers to talk about suicide with their children. The American Psychiatric Association recommends adults avoid talking about tragedies with children until they are at least 8 years old, unless it presents itself as an issue. Here are tips on how to talk about suicide with children:
- Very young children: Tell them someone died and that they were very sick.
- Ages seven to 10: Use short statements. Don’t shy away from the truth and wait for any follow-up questions. Approach the conversation the same way you would if someone had a physical illness.
- Ages 11 to 14: Start the conversation with questions to find out what they know about suicide and correct any misinformation. Talk to them about warning signs, suicidal thoughts and if their friends have talked about it.
- High school age: Speak to them about suicide the same way you would speak to an adult. Assure them that it’s ok if they have mental health problems. Talk to them about what they would do if they or one of their friends had suicidal thoughts.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network can help members find an in-network mental health professional by calling behavioral health access lines listed below:
PPO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-762-2382
- A free and confidential resource that’s just a call away when you need immediate support. Behavioral health professionals answer, 24/7.
HMO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-482-5982
- Connect with a behavioral health clinician if you need help finding a mental health or substance use provider.
- Behavioral health clinicians are available for routine assistance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For urgent concerns after hours, clinicians are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Learn more about mental health and options you have as a member to seek help at bcbsm.com/mentalhealth. Photo credit: Getty Images More from MIBluesPerspectives: