September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Let’s normalize talking about it.
A common misconception is that talking about suicide with someone who is experiencing emotional pain like grief or depression may actually lead them to think about hurting themselves. While we understand this fear, it is not true. Talking about suicide is actually suicide prevention. In this month’s newsletter, we would like to provide some tips for handling this critical yet difficult conversation if you suspect someone may be thinking about suicide.
How are you doing?”
How are you getting through your day?
Have you ever thought of hurting yourself?
Do you ever think of killing yourself?
Don’t be afraid of these last two! If they have not had these thoughts, you will not be planting them by asking the question.
If their answer to the last two questions is “yes,” ask:
Have you ever tried to kill yourself before?
Do you know how you would do it?
Do you have a plan in place? (How, when, etc)
Previous attempts make future attempts more likely, and planning or acquiring the means to hurt themselves are signs that they may be actively suicidal.
Ask about sources of emotional support.
Is there someone you feel safe talking to about this?
Do you have a therapist? Do you need help finding one?
If they have one: Have you talked to them recently about this? Have you called them to let them know you are in crisis?
Throughout each of these questions, just listen. Do not judge, make light of the situation, minimize their feelings, or try to “fix” things.
Validate their feelings:
I understand how that would upset you.
That sounds very hard.
Don’t rush, even though you may be uncomfortable. Give them time to respond and gather their thoughts. Allow for silences, this is likely hard for them, too.
Ultimately, if you believe someone is actively suicidal, ask:
Are you open to going to the hospital?
If you are not comfortable making decisions based on your conversation, but have immediate concern and are uncertain what to do next, the Milwaukee Mobile Crisis team supports callers on the Milwaukee County Crisis Line, (414) 257-7222, and provides mental health crisis responses and intervention to individuals of all ages in the community. This non-police mobile response provides services 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is composed of counselors, therapists, psychologists, and nurses.
If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).