How to Ask the Question: Are You Thinking About Suicide?
When someone shows warning signs of suicide, those around them are often at a loss: What should I do? What should I say? A critically important starting point is to simply ask the question: “Are you thinking about suicide?”
It’s a myth that asking this question will somehow plant a seed in someone’s mind. In fact, it shows that someone saw and someone cares.
“People may already have had the thought and you asking the question, research tells us, often provides relief,” said Amber Reints, PMHNP, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner of Avera Behavioral Health. “Asking the question gives the person an open door to respond honestly.”
The risk of suicide is too serious to ignore. Consider these statistics:
- Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. In 2020, 1.2 million attempted suicide and nearly 46,000 died by suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- In 2021, South Dakota Department of Health reported 198 suicide deaths — the highest number since tracking began.
The devastation left in the wake of suicide leaves no question that prevention is critical.
Warning Signs of Suicide
It’s important that we all are informed about the warning signs of suicide. Knowledge allows us to recognize when someone is at risk and then support them in getting help.
Warning signs of suicide include, but aren’t limited to:
- Expressions of hopelessness or feeling trapped
- Talks about feeling empty or having no reason to live
- Increase in drug and alcohol use
- Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy
- Going through a current crisis or significant life change, such as divorce, job loss, legal issues or financial problems
“It’s better to ask, than to have wished you would’ve asked,” said Reints.
How to Ask If Someone Is Considering Suicide
Approaching a person you’re concerned about can be difficult and should be handled sensitively. Allow these tips to guide you through the process:
- Be compassionate.
- Allow the individual to express themselves in full.
- Actively listen.
- Reaffirm that their concerns and pain are valid — and they are worthy of help and recovery.
- Be courageous and ask the question: “Are you thinking about suicide?”
If the person answers “yes,” be sure to help them take the following steps:
- Remove means of self-harm. “Suicidal thoughts are fluid,” said Reints. “Even a person who received help and denied having thoughts of suicide could begin to have suicidal thoughts at a later time. They can remain at risk of an impulsive attempt.”
Because of the high impulsivity of suicide, it’s important to modify our environment to increase safety. It’s recommended to immediately remove firearms, medication and other means of self-harm from the living space of someone struggling with their mental health.
- Create a plan for help — together. The individual should get help as soon as possible. Remain with the person until they can be evaluated.
- Praise the person for their courage. “It’s courageous to admit you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts,” said Reints. Praise the individual for the courageous choice they made to be honest with their thoughts.
What Not to Do
- Don’t minimize their pain or lecture them about things they should be grateful for. This can be very invalidating and lead to isolation as it may reinforce the distorted belief that “no one understands.”
- Don’t try to fix them. “You wouldn’t fix someone having severe chest pain all by yourself,” said Reints. “Leave the evaluation and treatment to the professionals. It’s your role to connect the individual to an expert.”
- Don’t NOT follow up. A person who’s receiving help will appreciate your support. Along the journey, continue to check in and share your support.
“Every life is valuable and everyone can make a difference,” said Reints. “You can make a difference.”
Thoughts of Suicide? Get Help Now
These resources are open 24/7 for immediate access:
- 988 – Call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for immediate help for you or someone you love.
- 800-691-4336 – Call this Avera Behavioral Health Urgent Care number to find behavioral health services to fit your needs, whether that’s outpatient or inpatient care.
- Behavioral Health Urgent Care – If you live in Sioux Falls, go to the Behavioral Health Urgent Care during a mental health crisis.
- Emergency Department – If you don’t have a specialized urgent care, go to your local emergency department for immediate help.
- Behavioral Health Navigation – If not in crisis but seeking information on behavioral health services, reach out to Avera Behavioral Health Navigation at 605-322-5142.