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Suicide Awareness and Prevention Asking the Question

“Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

Asking the question can save a life. If you feel that a person may be at risk for suicide it is important that you directly ask about suicidal thoughts.

“Are you having thoughts of suicide?”

How you ask the question is important. You should ask directly and don’t hesitate to use the words “killing yourself” and “suicide”. Many people who become suicidal are not necessarily looking to die. They could be seeking a means to escape from a situation they believe has become intolerable. Situations can be anything – illness, age, financial struggles, marital issues, sexual identity, sexual orientation, relationships, etc. Speaking the words directly may help the individual recognize previously unseen consequences of their desire to get away.

It is important that you ask the question without dread or without expressing a negative judgment. These types of questions are not helpful. Do not use guilt or threats. A person in crisis needs you to be a confident and reassuring presence - even if you don’t feel like it inside.

There are two myths related to asking the question that need to be dispelled. First, it is a myth that talking with someone directly about suicide and using that term will

plant the idea in a person’s mind. If you are having the conversation, the thought is already there. Speaking directly can draw that idea to the surface where it can be identified and dealt with. Second, it is a myth that people who talk about suicide aren’t really serious – they are just trying to get attention. YES!! Of course they are seeking attention and they are very serious. Give them your full attention. They are trying to tell you just how badly they are feeling. Listen!

If you ask the question and learn that someone is actively suicidal, try to stay with them. Don’t let the individual be left alone. If you can’t stay, find someone else who can. Seek assistance. Try to connect them with a friend or family member who has agreed to help. Call for local mental health assistance or guide the individual in calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-TALK). Put this number on your cell phone contact list! Call 9-1-1 if you are concerned about the individual’s immediate safety.

Do your best for the person, but it’s important to remember that, despite our best efforts, some people will still die by suicide.

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