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Suicide Prevention Awareness: How to Ask

suicide prevention awareness: how to askThis month is suicide prevention awareness month. Statistics show that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and for every suicide, there are 25 attempts. There are many myths about suicide, and I believe there is one myth in particular that must be discussed.

If I ask someone directly if they are thinking about suicide, I might make them think about it or act on it.

This is not accurate; there are numerous suicide first aid trainings being conducted in the world, and what research and trainings are teaching us is that you should ask someone directly about their thoughts of suicide. For example, “are you thinking about suicide?” or “are you thinking about killing yourself?”

Some may be wondering two questions about this reality:

  1. What about asking, “are you thinking about hurting yourself” instead?
  2. Do I have to say anything at all? And if so, why directly?

What about asking, “are you thinking about hurting yourself” instead?
When someone is thinking about taking his or her own life this means that she or he is already in pain, suffering, and does not see any other options at this time. He or she is hurting. The suicide is not seen as something that will necessarily hurt. It is seen as something that could possibly take the hurt away. With that being said, for people struggling with suicidal ideation there is a quote that really speaks to how suicide is not the answer or the only option you have:

“Suicide does not end the chances of life getting worse, it eliminates the possibilities of it ever getting better!!” — unknown author.

Do I have to say anything at all?
If you are asking someone if he or she is suicidal there is a reason behind it. It means you are seeing warning signs or red flags that make you feel this may be a possibility. If you don’t want to say anything at all, check in with yourself and your own biases that might lead you not to ask this question. Are you worried about the person’s answer? What that will mean for you and your relationship with that person? What are your beliefs about suicide?

All of these questions are understandable to ask yourself. This makes sense — it can be scary to ask someone “are you think about suicide?” — but then ask yourself this, wouldn’t it be better to be safe than sorry? Wouldn’t it be better to ask and save a life than to not ask at all?

And if so, why directly?
Asking someone directly if they are thinking about suicide shows them that you are not afraid to talk about it, and that you are willing to listen to and help them with their thoughts. It can help to alleviate the belief that there is no one to talk to or no one that understands. People can feel reluctant to express their thoughts of suicide, so talking about it directly can provide a sense of relief.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. There are people out there that can help.
If you would like to be trained in suicide first aid please research safeTALK, Applied Suicide Interventions Skills Training (ASIST), or contact your local American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) chapter. The AFSP mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.


Suicide Prevention Awareness: How to Ask

Gabrielle Katz, LCSW

Gabrielle Katz, Gabby, is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Gabby graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Master of Social Work program. Gabby is a Program Director of an eating disorder treatment center and safeTALK trainer. Gabby is the former Board President of the National Capital Area Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Gabby’s passion in the mental health field is being able to build awareness, education, preventative efforts, and provide treatment for people with mental illnesses, specifically eating disorders and those with suicidal ideation.

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APA Reference
Katz, G. (2018). Suicide Prevention Awareness: How to Ask. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 26 Sep 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.