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The Tough Conversations About Suicide

At Valley Oaks, we know it can be hard to talk about suicide. Mental health awareness has come a long way in recent years, but it can still be difficult to tell someone you’re concerned for them or hear about their struggle with suicide ideation.

You don’t have to be a professional to engage in a discussion about suicide. Showing you care enough to speak from a place of compassion and sensitivity is a start. When someone chooses to share deep and intimate thoughts, it takes a lot of courage. Learning how to talk about suicide has more to do with listening intently than talking. It’s essential to understand how someone feels and provide sustaining support.

Warning signs

Each day in the United States, 123 people die by suicide. It is the 10th leading cause of death for people of all ages, races, genders, and backgrounds. While many look at suicide as a selfish act, what’s missing from this narrative is the amount of distress and emotional pain someone must be experiencing to end their life. Not everyone considering suicide reaches out for help. 

That’s why we must be educated about the warning signs:

  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Drug use
  • Manic or aggressive actions
  • Withdrawing from family, friends, and commitments
  • Mood swings
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Emotionally distant
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Emotional pain manifesting physically (headaches, stomach aches, muscle soreness, etc.)
  • Parting with beloved possessions
  • Unwarranted emotional goodbyes with family and friends

The conversation

Before sitting down to speak with the person you’re concerned about, have resources ready. Choose a quiet place, away from distractions, where you can have a focused conversation.

Start the discussion by sharing why you are concerned for your friend or loved one. For instance: “I don’t see you at the gym like I used to since your mother passed away. I’m worried about you. Would you tell me what’s going on?” Listen to their response intently. Follow up with open-ended questions, but first allow them to finish their thoughts before you jump in.

It’s important to validate your loved one’s feelings. Let them know you understand what they say is important, and thank them for opening up to you. If the question is warranted, ask if they’ve thought about hurting themselves or ending their life. If they say yes, please reach out immediately to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or call Valley Oaks at 800-859-5553.

Ask if they have a plan in place or have considered how they would end their life. If there is an outline or idea of how suicide would happen, stay in their presence and remove anything from their direct access which could cause harm: pills, alcohol, weapons, or sharp objects.

Do not compromise your safety in the process. Please call 911 if you or someone else is in immediate danger.

What not to say

What you say can have a huge impact on what your loved one decides to share.

Try avoiding these common mistakes:

  • Do not ask questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” These act as conversation enders rather than conversation starters.
  • Blame and judgment have no place in the safe space you’ve created for them. Making someone feel guilty or insignificant because of their emotions will only create roadblocks in your conversation.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If someone begs you to keep your conversation confidential, yet you know their life is in peril, their safety should always come first.

The team at Valley Oaks understands people need to talk about feelings of suicide in a safe environment. We are here and ready to support you. You do not have to walk through this alone.

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