What I want you to know about talking about suicide

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post was submitted by The Advicist.

Suicide isn't something most of us want to think about, let alone talk about. I get that. I used to be the same.  But then I had some training in talking with people about suicidal feelings, and had to put that training to use. I'm sorry that I did. But it taught me one very important thing: Talking about it doesn't make it more real, or more scary. Talking about it makes it seem smaller, less threatening.

I think people don't want to talk about suicide for a few reasons:
  • If you don't talk about it, you can pretend it doesn't exist.
  • The feelings! So many feelings! It's much easier to brush them under the rug than face them (in ourselves and others).
  • And when it comes to talking to someone with depression, you don't want to put ideas into their head.

Well, I'm here to tell you that you cannot make a person consider suicide by asking them if they feel that way.  And yes, by asking them, I do mean saying something simple along the lines of, 'Have you had suicidal thoughts?'.

It seems like a shocking thing to say. That just by saying it, you might somehow encourage someone to do it. But experience has taught me that it's quite the opposite. Having someone ask about it finally gives them permission to talk about it. The relief is palpable. The sigh. The release of keeping those thoughts bottled up for so long. Of feeling utterly terrible and hopeless, and then ON TOP OF THAT, feeling that those very feelings are somehow wrong.

If you know someone who is struggling, don't be afraid to talk about it. Ask them how they are. Be prepared to just listen. And if someone hasn't been having thoughts of suicide, they haven't. You are not going to give them ideas.

Don't offer solutions (other than urging them to seek help). Don't tell them to buck up, or cheer up, or that 'it isn't that bad!'.

Don't argue with their reasoning, or list reasons to stay alive. They likely won't believe your reasons. And telling someone who feels that their family doesn't care that their family will miss them, for example, will only make them feel worse.

Just listen. And let them know that you are there for them, and prepared to accept them and ALL their feelings, even the ones that -we- would rather weren't there.

The feelings exist. Suicide exists. And not talking about it only makes it worse.



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