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How to Ask Your Friend If They Are Considering Suicide

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Asking if a friend might be considering suicide can feel scary. You want to make sure you are showing compassion and sincere concern. Just as importantly, though, you also want to have a plan. Sticking to a general plan will kill those butterflies in your stomach, among other benefits. One thing to keep in mind is that asking your friend if they have suicidal thoughts has not proven to increase the likelihood of suicide. Approaching your friend might be exactly what they need to feel supported and loved, reducing their risk.

Check out these four steps to asking your friend if they might be considering suicide:

1. Timing helps.

As I mentioned, it doesn’t hurt to just be frank about it. However, you don’t need to blurt the question out while you’re sitting in the middle of a movie theater. Be considerate about the timing and setting. It helps to invite them over to your house, or get some takeout and sit in your car. If they aren’t willing to meet up, call them and ask if they are in a situation where they can talk privately on the phone. Consider the amount of time necessary — if you only have a half an hour, that’s probably not the best time to talk. If they start opening up to you, you’ll want plenty of time to listen and let them finish their thoughts. Pick a flexible time where any appointments or plans you may have can be canceled.

2. Begin gently.

Then, begin with an “I feel” phrase like, “I am feeling worried about you. I consider you a really important part of my life and I would be incredibly sad if anything were to happen to you.” Or you could go another route, like, “I feel like I should tell you that you’re a really valuable part of my life. I feel concerned about your well-being, though, and I want to make sure everything’s OK.” Establishing the rapport of trust will set a positive tone for the conversation. You should also know that starting with accusatory statements will backfire in pretty much every situation. Never tell them they are sad or they are suicidal and that they need help. Keeping a tone of “inviting” them to be open with you allows them to keep their power and they will appreciate it.

3. Describe behaviors in a kind way.

Saying things like, “I’ve noticed lately that you seem different. Tell me about how you’re doing.” Avoid asking something like “Are you OK?” which is a closed-ended question and probably won’t take the situation very far. You can also mention more specific behaviors, like, “I’ve noticed you seem to prefer to be alone more often lately.” Or, “I’ve noticed you seem sad a lot, recently.” These statements still imply you’re noticing something without accusing them, which helps them stay in control of their own information. If they deny feeling those things, though, don’t keep insisting they are feeling that way. Say something more definitive but open-ended like, “Tell me what’s going on with you right now.” It may seem demanding, but your tone of voice and body language can help them know you are concerned about them. It may sound silly, but try practicing a phrase you’re comfortable with in front of the mirror. Watch your body language and tone and ask yourself if you would feel comfortable answering to what you see and hear.

4. Just ask.

That’s right. Just ask your friend if they’ve thought about suicide. A simple, “OK, you’ve mentioned you aren’t feeling yourself lately. Are you considering suicide?” Ask them if they have a plan, or if they have already made an attempt. The answers to these questions will help you decide how to react. Making a good start is the key to helping them know you care about the answer. Once they’ve established that they either have or haven’t, it’s best to close with another reassurance that you feel grateful for them in your life and you want to be there for them.

A version of this article originally appeared on Save Me From.

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

Originally published: October 21, 2018
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