How to talk to a friend who is thinking about committing suicide

A guide to start the conversation (resources linked at the bottom)


5 Actions to help someone in emotional pain provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Rebecca Munday, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Starting a conversation about suicide can be a daunting task, so in honor of Suicide Awareness Month, the George-Anne Inkwell wants to provide you with the tools you need to start the conversation. 

First, remember a suicide attempt or a threat of an attempt is a medical emergency, and it requires immediate professional help. 

If someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can help by doing any of the following 

  1. Call 911 or the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) 
  2. If you do not want to talk, you can text HOME the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor.
  3. Remove the means a person could use to kill themselves from the room (e.g. stockpiled pills, guns, knives) 
  4. Call a health care provider who has been working with the person (e.g. primary care provider, psychiatrist, or therapist) 
  5. Veterans can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and press 1 for the Veterans Crisis Line or text the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255
  6. “Georgia Crisis & Access Line: 1-800-715-4225, a direct line to mental health emergency providers in GA,” according to Amanda Kort, a counselor at the Georgia Southern counseling center. 

Some warning signs that someone may be at risk for suicide include 

  1. Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves 
  2. Talking about having no reason to live, being in unbearable pain, feeling trapped or feeling hopeless 
  3. Talking about how they are burden to others 
  4. Increased substance abuse (alcohol or drugs) 
  5. Behaving recklessly 
  6. Withdrawing or isolating from others 
  7. Sleeping too little or too much 
  8. Eating too little or too much 
  9. Extreme mood swings 
  10. Acting anxious or irritated 
  11. Writing a will or giving away important items
  12. Researching ways to die 
  13. Withdrawing or saying goodbye 

When you are ready to start the conversation about suicide with your loved one, the NAMI Navigating a Mental Health Crisis Guide recommends starting the conversation with a specific observation such as “I noticed you haven’t been sleeping a lot.” 

Then, they suggest asking if the person is thinking about killing themselves, without asking in a way that expects “no.” to be the answer. 

This: “Are you thinking about suicide?” 

Not this: “You’re not thinking about suicide, are you?”

As the conversation continues, NAMI, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline offer Dos and Don’ts of the conversation. 

  1. Do allow the person to express their feelings
  2. Do make yourself available to show your support
  3. Do speak honestly and directly about suicide
  4. Do try to keep your feelings off your face and your body language neutral
  5. Do be patient 
  1. Don’t judge, lecture the person on the value of life or debate whether suicide is right or wrong. 
  2. Don’t appear shocked or nervous.
  3. Don’t dare the person to commit suicide. 
  4. Don’t promise secrecy. 
  5. Don’t try to handle the situation alone. 
    1. Call 911 or the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
    2. Call a health care provider who has been working with the person 
  6. Don’t argue, threaten or shout. 
  7. Don’t minimize the person’s feelings with phrases like 
    1. “We all go through tough times like these. You’ll be fine.” 
    2. “It’s all in your head. Just snap out of it.”

For more information, about how to help someone struggling with suicidal thoughts: 

  1. Visit the Help Someone Else page on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website  
  2. Read Georgia Southern’s Suicide Prevention Tool Kit 
  3. Read Georgia Southern’s H.E.R.O folder 
  4. Visit the Georgia Southern counseling center’s website or call them at 912-344-2529 for Armstrong and 912-478-5541 for Statesboro 
  5. Read The George-Anne Inkwell articles “Suicidal Thoughts Don’t Discriminate” and “Suicide Prevention on the Armstrong Campus.”