How to Have Difficult Conversations About Suicide Prevention

Having quality conversations about suicide is key to suicide prevention. Learn how to bring up suicide and help a struggling loved one here. 


Table of Contents

Introduction to Suicide Prevention

Are you concerned that someone you know may be suicidal? In 2020 alone, 45,979 people died by suicide in the United States. Suicide prevention is about paying attention to the signs and reaching out if necessary. Talking about suicide is never comfortable, but it can save a life.1

suicide prevention

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Suicidal Risk Factors

There are reasons a person may be suicidal. Often, there is more than one reason for someone to be suicidal. Some of the most common reasons include the following:2
  • Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and certain personality disorders  
  • Traumatic brain injury 
  • Addiction and substance use disorder
  • Feeling hopeless and powerless in life
  • Family and marital issues
  • Prolonged stress from financial, social, or interpersonal issues
  • Exposure to someone else’s suicide
  • Childhood abuse or neglect 
  • Family history of suicide

While it seems like there is no hope, there is always another option. There are many ways that suicide prevention can be implemented into education, community programs, and mental health treatment.

Signs That a Person May Be Suicidal

Knowing what to look for is one of the most important keys to suicide prevention. Some signs that a person may be suicidal include:

  • An increase in risky behaviors 

  • Giving away possessions 

  • Talking about wanting to die 

  • Saying goodbye to others as if they won’t be seen again 

  • Acquiring the means to carry out suicide, such as buying drugs or firearms

  • Being preoccupied with death 

  • Feelings of guilt and shame 

  • Feeling like a burden to others 

  • Mood instability and mood swings 

  • Making plans or researching ways to take their life

  • Withdrawing from friends and family 

  • Using drugs and alcohol

  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits

Who Is at Risk For Suicide?

Suicidal ideations can affect anyone. However, some groups are more at risk than others.  According to the CDC, men are more likely to die by suicide. The suicide rate for men is four times higher than for women.3

Also, those who are Native American and Alaskan Indian are more at risk for suicide than other ethnicities. Veterans and LGBTQ+ individuals are also at a higher risk for suicide. This is also true of individuals living in rural isolated areas.4

Are ACEs and Suicide Connected?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have been shown to increase the risk of suicide later in life. These experiences, which may range from abuse, neglect, or even having a caregiver that committed suicide, may negatively affect children up until their adult life, potentially leading to multiple consequences. 

However, making sure that we educate children and adults alike about the dangers of ACEs and suicide can help people get the support and care they need for their mental health.5

How to Safely Bring Up Concerns About Suicide

Bringing up suicide can be difficult. If you are worried about a loved one feeling suicidal and want to help, having a caring conversation is often the first step in suicide prevention. 

It is important to approach suicide prevention conversations with care and sensitivity. Begin by letting them know that you are bringing up the topic because you care. It can be helpful to ask questions to get them to open up. 

Questions to Ask Someone Contemplating Suicide

While not all of these questions may be beneficial to ask in every scenario, it’s important to know what kinds of questions to potentially ask.

Examples of questions you can ask include:

  • How do you feel you are coping with what’s going on in your life?
  • Are you thinking about dying or hurting yourself?
  • Do you ever think about suicide? Have you thought about it before? 
  • Have you ever harmed yourself or thought about self-harm?
  • Are you in a place where you have access to items that can be used for self-harm?
  • How can I best support you through this? Have you thought about getting help?

Be Non-Judgmental in Your Approach

It is important to approach these questions from a non-judgmental, neutral place. These questions can be difficult to ask but are often key to suicide prevention. However, many people worry that asking these questions may cause someone to follow through with suicide. 

In reality, asking these kinds of questions and holding space for someone to talk about their suicidal feelings is often helpful. It can reduce the risk of a person acting on their feelings. However, if you are still concerned about bringing up these questions to your loved one, it can be beneficial to talk with a mental health professional first.

Another way to talk about suicide is to bring up things you’ve noticed that are causing you to feel concerned. When doing this, make sure to approach with the utmost empathy and compassion. 

Dialogue Tips

Anytime you are discussing suicide with someone, there are a few things to keep in mind. Following these dialogue tips can help your suicide prevention efforts be more productive. 

Some dialogue tips for suicide prevention include:

  • Approach from a non-judgmental, accepting place. Avoid interrupting and make an effort to hear them.
  • Be respectful of the person’s feelings by not minimizing their feelings. 
  • Don’t patronize them by saying things like “you have so much to live for,” or “it could be worse.” These statements tend to be unhelpful. Ask them about their experience and allow them to share freely. 
  • Reassure them that things can and will get better with proper help. There is always a way out of difficult situations, feelings, and circumstances. Help them keep in mind that nothing is forever, including their pain.
  • Encourage them to seek treatment. Overcoming suicidal thoughts is difficult to do on their own. Getting help from a professional is often the best way to overcome suicidal thoughts.
  • Don’t swear yourself to secrecy. Often, it is important to get professional help involved. Keeping suicidal feelings a secret will cause more harm than good. 
  • Know your resources. Having a list of resources is immensely helpful in talking about suicide prevention.

How to Be an Ally

Outside of having conversations about suicide prevention, there are a few things you can do to be an ally to a friend or a loved one considering suicide.

These include:

  • Lean in: Talking about suicide is never comfortable. Regardless, it’s important to lean in and ask more questions. 
  • Check-in regularly: It is important to ensure that the person you are concerned about feels like you care. Just knowing that someone cares about them and will be regularly checking in can reduce suicidal thoughts. 
  • Offer your support: While professional help is best, it is important to let your loved one know that you are available to lend a shoulder to cry on and an open heart to listen with. Reassuring them that you are a phone call away can be deeply beneficial. 
  • Remove items that can be used for harm: If you can, remove any items that could be used for self-harm. 
  • Encourage them to abstain from drugs and alcohol: Drugs and alcohol can often make suicidal ideation worse. Staying away from these harmful substances is key to suicide prevention. 
  • Encourage them to seek professional help: There is no shame in getting help from a professional. Mental health professionals are best equipped to deal with suicidal ideation and will be able to provide the most effective treatment. 
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Suicide Prevention and Treatment Strategies

Suicide is preventable with proper treatment. Treatment for suicidal thoughts and feelings will look different from person to person. However, treatment typically includes counseling and medication. 

Counseling Options

Talking to a counselor or other mental health professional is key in unpacking the difficult experiences that may cause someone to be suicidal. 

Behavioral counseling such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used for treatment, in addition to counseling. This type of counseling trains a person to be able to identify destructive thought patterns and change them. 


Many people who are considering suicide suffer from untreated mental illness. Often, the solution is as simple as quality psychiatric care and finding the right medication. Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs are commonly used when it comes to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. 

Getting help from a medical professional will ensure that you or your loved one are getting the right type of treatment and the right medication to prevent suicide. 

Suicide Prevention and Treatment at Horizon Treatment Services

With appropriate interventions, suicidal ideations can be addressed and individual mental health can improve. The crucial factor in preventing suicide is promoting and actively pursuing professional assistance. 

Horizon Treatment Services offers tailored mental health solutions that can effectively address thoughts of self-harm. We know just how important mental health and wellness is, and we are committed to serving our communities.

What Do We Offer?

We have programs that are appropriate for people of all ages and demographics. We offer inpatient, outpatient, residential, and community support programs. If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal ideation, we will be here with you every step of the way.

Call us and get started on your path to a happier, healthier, and more fulfilled life today.