November 28, 2019

A Therapist Shares How to Talk About Suicide – Katie Bendel

is it ok to talk about suicideWill I cause someone to attempt suicide if I ask them if they are having suicidal thoughts?

I know that many of you reading this today have wondered this at one point in time. 

Suicide can be a difficult topic to bring up with a friend or family member. We often fear that we will say something upsetting, wrong or inadequate when we know that a loved one is hurting or suffering. Sometimes no action seems like the best course. We wonder - is it better to not say anything at all? 

If you’ve had these types of thoughts before, you are not alone. However, research shows that asking someone at-risk if they are suicidal does not increase suicidal thoughts. In fact, talking about suicide may help save someone's life. 

Why are we talking about suicide on an eating disorder recovery blog? 

  • Rates of death by suicide among individuals with eating disorders are elevated compared to the general population.*
  • Those with a history of trauma, abuse, hopelessness, family history of suicide, grief or loss are at an increased risk of suicide.
  • In the U.S., those aged 15 to 24 face an increased risk of suicide; this is also an age group that is greatly impacted by eating disorders. 

Middle-aged to older-adults are also impacted, but it varies by gender. The highest rate of suicide deaths among women occurs between ages 45 and 64, while the highest rate for men is 75 years and older.

My loved one falls in this at-risk group. What are some of the warning signs that someone may be suicidal?

If a loved one is talking about wanting to die or kill themselves, this should be taken seriously and is a large indicator that it’s time to seek help. Some other common signs are the following: 

  • Telling you or others they feel hopeless, or like they have no reason to live 
  • Experiencing unbearable pain
  • Talking about feeling trapped
  • Isolating or withdrawing from others 
  • Sleeping a lot, or barely at all 

I’m worried about someone; how can I help?

  • Talk to your loved one privately if possible. 
  • Offer support by expressing compassion and empathy for any pain they are experiencing (emotional or physical). 
  • Try to listen to what they are thinking and feeling. 
  • Show your honesty by saying, “I’m not sure what the best thing to say is…but I want you to know I’m here for you. What can I do?” 
  • Avoid minimizing their feelings and thoughts or giving advice. 
  • Let them know you care about them.
  • Ask, “are you thinking about killing yourself?” In fact, asking this may be essential. 

If they disclose they are suicidal, it’s extremely important to take the person seriously and to get them connected to resources as soon as possible.

  1. In an emergency, dial 911.
  2. Help keep them safe. Ask if they have a plan and remove or disable any lethal means.
  3. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.
  4. Text the Crisis Text Line: 741741.
  5. Encourage them to seek mental health treatment.
My loved one attempted suicide; what can I do?

We can all take steps to help prevent suicide, but we cannot always stop it. If your loved one has experienced a suicide attempt, you know that it can result in a wide range of emotions including fear, guilt, anger or sadness. 

It’s important to know that you are not alone, and it is important for you to also seek support. All of your emotions are valid. Acknowledge that this is a time of suffering for you as well and try to practice self-compassion.

Want to learn more? 

We found the information above from these resources. We encourage you to check them out too: If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder or mental health issues, you can call and speak with one of our Master’s-level therapists today. Get a confidential consultation by calling 877-825-8584.

Katie Bendel, LMSW, is a Clinical Assesssment Specialist for Eating Recovery Center. Katie is passionate about helping individuals find treatment and recovery.
*Chesney, E., Goodwin, G. M. and Fazel, S. (2014), Risks of all-cause and suicide mortality in mental disorders: a meta-review. World Psychiatry, 13: 153–160.
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