CHANGING the CULTURE of MENTAL HEALTH

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Three Easy Steps to Ask Someone about Suicide

Brittany Miskowiec

Why is the S word such a scary thing to talk about? Get your mind out of the gutter! I’m talking about suicide, not sex. Yes, that “s” word. The one that some people have never said out loud. The one that people don’t want to talk about. Suicide.

Trust me, I get it. It’s a scary thing to talk about, but why? The reason that asking someone if they’re thinking about suicide is scary is because the answer might be yes. If the answer is yes, you’re then faced with having a potential life or death conversation. It’s a serious conversation and it might be scary for YOU, but it’s probably a relief for the person that you’re talking to. It means that you care enough to recognize the warning signs and ask them about it. It means that you are willing to have a conversation that most people don’t want to have.

One of the biggest myths associated with suicide is that if you talk about it, you’re going to put the idea in someone’s head. Talking about suicide isn’t going to put the idea in someone’s head and it isn’t going to make someone’s thoughts about suicide worse. In fact, asking someone about suicide can serve as a deterrent and give the person a sense of relief!

Examples of Common Warning Signs

The challenge is that most people don’t know how to talk about suicide. They don’t know what to say if someone shows warning signs…. and many people don’t even know what warning signs are.

Warning signs are things that we can observe in others that might indicate that they are thinking about suicide. Warning signs can be things that people think, feel, or behaviors that they display.

They might say:

• I just want to die

• I don’t see how things will get any better

• What’s the point of living?

• I want to go to sleep and not wake up

• They’d be better off without me

• I feel trapped

They may display the following behaviors:

• Increased alcohol or drug use

• Preparatory behaviors (gathering pills, purchasing gun, research)

• Withdrawing from activities

• Isolating from family and friends

• Sleeping or eating too much or too little

• Visiting or calling people to say goodbye

• Giving away possessions

• Increased aggression or anger

They may feel:

● Hopeless

● Helpless

● Numb

● Trapped

● Burdensome

● Unbearable psychological pain

Now that you understand some of the most common suicide warning signs, it’s helpful to know what to do if you recognize any of these signs. Remember, these signs MIGHT mean that someone is thinking of suicide, it’s not guaranteed. The only way to know for sure if someone is thinking about suicide is to ask them!

One of the common myths about suicide is that talking about it will put the idea in someone's head - Brittany Miskowiec

Here’s a Simple Formula That Can be Used to Ask Someone About Suicide

1. Show them the evidence:

Tell them what you’ve noticed and why you’re asking about suicide. Often, people are concerned that someone might get angry when you ask them about suicide. This is not typically the case, but if it was, by showing them the evidence, you mitigate the opportunity for them to respond and say, “What?! Why are you asking that?!” Example: I’ve noticed that you’ve been showing up late for work, you’ve lost a lot of weight, and I know that you and your wife have been struggling to connect lately.

2. Normalize their thoughts:

I like to tell people that given the circumstances (the evidence you just showed them), it’s understandable that they might be thinking about suicide. Example: In any of those situations, someone may be thinking about suicide.

3. Ask them directly:

When asking someone about suicide, it’s important to be direct. We want to show the person that we’re comfortable talking about suicide and that we’re there to listen. This is why it’s important to be direct and say “Are you thinking about suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

All together, it sounds like this:

I’ve noticed that you’ve been showing up late for work, you’ve lost a lot of weight, and I know that you and your wife have been struggling to connect lately. In any of those situations, someone may be thinking about suicide. Are you thinking about suicide?

When having this conversation with someone, remembering the following tips may be helpful:

• Treat it like any other conversation

• Be genuine

• Ask for help if needed

• Connect to resources

If you’re talking to someone with thoughts of suicide and need extra help, you or the person with thoughts of suicide can call or text 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Brittany Miskowiec

Brittany Miskowiec is a suicidologist and program director at Ellie Mental Health. She has been working in the areas of suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention for almost fifteen years and she’s passionate about educating others on this topic. Plus she’s an all-around bad @$& therapist.