I’ve been talking with people about suicide for a long time. And the question I am most often asked as a speaker and an expert is, “How do I ask someone about suicide? I don’t want to give them the idea!”
Please be assured, you won’t give them the idea to end their own life. If you see enough signs or clues that you are worried they may be thinking about suicide, they’ve already had the idea.
It is very difficult for someone to walk up to you and ask, “Would you help me? I think I want to kill myself.” After working in mental health for 30+ years, I can say this very rarely happens!
Honestly, it is actually much easier for that person if you approach them and say, “Bob, you and I have known each other for awhile, and I am concerned about you. I’ve heard you are having some troubles at home and you’ve been late to work a couple times recently (or whatever is happening in their life). I’m worried – have you been thinking of hurting or killing yourself?”
Or ask, “Have you been thinking about suicide?”
Yep – that’s right. Boldly ask “The Question” right out there in the open. The more you ‘uhm’ and ‘uh’ around The Question, the more uncomfortable you appear in asking The Question, which lowers the probability that the person will answer openly.
You don’t want to bias their response, so don’t ask “You haven’t been thinking about doing something stupid like killing yourself have you Angie?” They will key in on “stupid,” and of course say no.
Ask “Have you been thinking of hurting or killing yourself” or “Have you been thinking about suicide?”
This direct question pulls for a direct answer – yes or no.
Next time, we’ll talk about what to do with their answer to The Question.