How to Help a Loved One with Suicidal Thoughts

Written by: Allison Bates, M.S.
How to Help a Loved One with Suicidal Thoughts

In the United States, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among individuals aged 10-14 and 25-34, according to a 2020 study by the CDC. Suicide has become such a common topic for kids and teens in these recent years that many teens make jokes out of it or say it casually when upset, by telling peers to ‘go kill themselves’. With the prevalence of conversations around suicide, it is of the utmost importance that we are aware of the warning signs to take action quickly, if needed.

There are many potential warning signs that a loved one might be thinking about attempting suicide, including: giving away possessions, changes in mood, dark or off-putting social media posts, isolating from others, substance use, and lack of interest in things previously enjoyed. Even though these are some common signs, it is important to note that not all suicides originate with these warning signs.

If you suspect a loved one is having suicidal ideations, having an open conversation about suicide is important to set an open environment. Studies show that engaging in these conversations does not increase the likelihood of self-harm/suicidal actions or ‘plant’ the idea in their heads, but gives them a compassionate setting to discuss their feelings.

When speaking to a loved one about their suicidal ideation it is important to try and remain calm and validate their feelings. As difficult as it can be to stay in a non-judgmental space, the way others react to a suicidal outcry can determine their openness, moving forward. Be direct about your compassion and love for them, while being conscious of your tone and body language.

Many people avoid conversations about suicide worrying they wouldn’t know what to say or will make the ideation worse; however, straightforward, validating questions/phrases can help both parties feel understood. (ie. ‘Do you have any thoughts of killing yourself?’, ‘I’m sorry you are going through this, what do you need?’). It is also important to prioritize safety of the individual contemplating suicide by removing any weapons, not leaving the individual alone, and seeking help from a mental health professional.