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What You Need to Know if a Loved One Talks about Suicide:

4 Common Myths Busted

1. Asking someone if they are suicidal is a bad idea because it might “plant the idea in their head.”

Often, people are afraid to ask a friend or family member who seems to be emotionally struggling if they’re considering suicide because they’re afraid that if they say the word, ‘suicide,’ it may give their loved one the idea about carrying it out. This is an unfounded myth.

If you’re concerned enough about them that you fear they may be considering suicide, they very well may be. So, asking about it just opens the door for them to talk about it, to feel less alone, and to get professional help, if needed.

The reality is that for most people going through an emotional struggle, if you directly ask, “Are you feeling so bad that you have been having thoughts of killing yourself?” they will actually feel relieved to have the issue named and will talk more openly about it. You are not planting anything in anyone’s head.

People in great emotional pain often have at least passing thoughts about committing suicide. In talking with them, don’t use euphemisms like, “hurting yourself” or “harming yourself.” Intentionally use the word ‘suicide’ or the phrase, ‘killing yourself.’ Meet the issue head on. If people are thinking about suicide, they will appreciate your naming the issue for what it is, and you open the way for them to share their thoughts and feelings. They may tell you that they have had thoughts but would never act on them, they may tell you that they have had thoughts that they are struggling to not act upon, or even tell you that they have a plan that they are intending to act upon at a certain time or place. \

All that information allows you to help them make a safety plan - eg. support them in calling a suicide hotline, going with them to the ER, helping them to find a therapist, or getting into a support group through an organization such as NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness.)

Don’t refrain from asking just for fear of offending someone. It shows that you care enough about them to ask.

2. People who are depressed but then seem to be much better are no longer at risk of suicide.

A common myth around suicide is that once people no longer appear to be depressed, that they are no longer suicidal. Often, while in the depths of depression, people have so little energy that they simply don’t have the energy to act upon their intention to commit suicide. As the depression begins to lift, however, sometimes the suicidal thoughts/intentions haven’t changed but now they have more energy to carry their intention out.

Supporting your loved one in having professional help can go a long way toward monitoring their safety. Just because they are no longer laying in bed all day doesn’t mean that they still may not be having suicidal thoughts.

3. Only “mentally ill” people are suicidal.

Studies show that 54% of people who committed suicide do not have a history of diagnosable mental health difficulties. Even if someone has never struggled with mental health issues before, people in severe emotional distress from divorce, financial or legal difficulties, chronic illness or pain, or grief from the loss of a loved one (including a pet,) can also be reasons why someone may be thinking of suicide as a solution to their pain. Just because someone in your life has always seemed to be ‘the strong one,’ or the one to whom you always turn for advice, doesn’t mean that they may not be struggling with thoughts of suicide if they’re going through a dark time themselves. Don’t assume that they don’t need support just because they seem to be “always so together.”

4. If people talk about suicide, then they aren’t serious about it.

This is just as much a myth about suicide as the belief that people who don’t talk about it must not be thinking about it. If you notice that the theme of death comes up a lot in conversations, even as a joke, it may be a sign that they are struggling with thoughts of suicide. If someone you care about talks about suicide or death, even in a passive way, like, ‘Maybe the crosstown bus will just run me over,’ take that seriously. They may need you to help them to see that there is professional help to assist them and that you are there to support them through whatever it is that they are going through to help them to get on the other side of it.


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