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Talking About Suicide to Someone You're Worried About

Overview

Suicide is a serious matter. You may be worried about a friend, coworker, or family member. Maybe you heard them talk about being a burden, or feeling hopeless or done with life. Or maybe they started acting differently than usual, like giving away things they own, or suddenly connecting with family and friends when they are usually more withdrawn.

If someone does not seem like their usual self, trust your instinct. Talk with them about why you are worried and ask them about thoughts of suicide.

Asking about suicide is very important if you're worried about someone. You may be afraid that discussing suicide will make it more likely to happen. But in fact, talking about it can reduce the risk of suicide. Feeling connected to others can help protect people from suicide.

How to talk about suicide

If you are worried about someone and don't know how to talk with them about suicide, you can contact a suicide hotline for advice and support. Call your provincial suicide hotline or Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566. In Alberta, you can also call Health Link at 811 or the Alberta Health Services Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-303-2642.

It may not be easy to discuss suicide with someone you care about. But an open, meaningful conversation can provide valuable support for a person who's thinking about ending their life.

When talking with someone about suicide:

  1. Make time to have this important conversation.

    Talking about suicide can take a while. Make sure you are not in a rush. Give the person you are worried about your full attention. Remove distractions if possible. Turn off your phone and try not to check the time while talking. You could also suggest going to a quiet area together or going for a walk.

  2. Ask about thoughts of suicide in a direct way.

    Be direct. For example, you might say, "I'm worried about you. Are you thinking about suicide?" They may be relieved to talk about it. Try to stay calm and not seem too shocked. Encourage them to talk about what is happening that is making them feel this way. Don't judge them or argue with them. Accept that their feelings are real.

  3. Ask open ended questions.

    Be a good listener and pay close attention while they're talking. Show open present body language, and don't interrupt. Be alert for any reasons they give for wanting to live. Ask questions to make sure you understand what they said. Repeat what you heard, including anything they mentioned that makes their life worth living.

  4. Ask if they have a plan to end their life.

    This may feel scary to talk about, but it's important to know. Have they set a date or chosen a location? Do they have any weapons, pills, or other means of suicide? Have they tried to end their life before? The answers can help you assess the danger. The more detailed their plan, the higher the risk. But take all talk of suicide seriously.

    If they have a plan to end their life or hurt someone else, get help right away. Call 911 or go with them to an emergency room. Don't leave them alone if you feel they would not be safe.

  5. Offer your help.

    For example, you might be able to:

    • Help them make a list of trusted people they can call for support.
    • Help them find treatment or a support group.
    • Remove and store any means of suicide, such as weapons or pills.

    If possible, tell them you're available when they need to talk. But don't commit to anything that you won't or can't do.

  6. Encourage them to get professional help.

    Support them to call their doctor, a mental health professional, or a suicide crisis centre or helpline. You can offer to make the call together, call Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566. In Alberta, you can also call Health Link at 811 or the Alberta Health Services Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-303-2642.

    Don't agree to keep this talk a secret. This may not feel right. But the person you care about needs more support than one person can give, and their life could be at risk. Let them know that you care about them and that getting help is an important next step.

  7. Follow up on your talk.

    Call or visit soon, or send a text or an email. You might offer to do activities or share meals together, drop off comfort items, or go for a walk with them. Staying connected shows that you care. And it helps the person feel valued and supported.

If you are worried about someone but you are not ready or able to offer support, share your concerns with someone they trust who can offer help. Or connect them to professional resources. This lets the person you’re worried about know that they matter, even when you cannot offer immediate support yourself.

The tips above can be used while you follow the REACH pathway, which can help you help your friend, coworker, or family member. REACH stands for recognize, engage, ask, connect, and heal.

Credits

Adaptation Date: 8/3/2022

Adapted By: Alberta Health Services

Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.