The Importance of Talking About Suicide and Some Tips To Do So

Talking about suicide can save lives by building bridges to those who can't find a way out. Find out how to appropriately approach a conversation about it.
The Importance of Talking About Suicide and Some Tips To Do So
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 18 September, 2022

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Every year, about 1 million people take their own, lives and many more try to do so. Despite this, there’s still a lot of silence and stigma surrounding the subject. For the same reason, and on the occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, we want to tell you about the importance of talking about suicide.

When a person decides to take his or her own life, he or she is facing suffering that’s difficult to understand for those who are not in his or her shoes. However, it’s common that these people are forced to face their pain in silence and secrecy. On a societal level we tend to avoid the topic or judge those who have these kinds of ideations.

However, talking about suicide can save lives and prevent the devastation that affects entire families. Let’s explore the importance of starting to do so and some key points to keep in mind.

The importance of talking about suicide

There’s a widespread belief that talking about suicide encourages people to commit suicide. This is why it’s rarely mentioned in the media and people prefer not to talk about it with their loved ones in distress. However, the opposite is true: it’s absolutely necessary to talk about it.

This belief stems from the so-called ” contagion effect” or Werther effect, whereby people tend to commit more suicides after seeing them portrayed in the media. However, it’s known that this only occurs as a result of journalistic malpractice and of treating the subject in a sensationalist and shallow manner.

When approached with awareness, without giving specific or lurid details and without glorifying it and focusing on available avenues of help, the result is the opposite. By normalizing the act of talking about suicide, people with this type of ideation can feel understood, listened to, and discover the alternatives available to them.

Talking about these thoughts is liberating, produces a catharsis, and eliminates the feeling of loneliness and isolation that is often experienced and only increases the discomfort. In addition, this allows those who are around a person who may be considering suicide to pay attention to warning signs and act in time by offering the necessary support and help.

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Tips for talking about suicide

Facing a conversation about suicide isn’t easy for either party. However, given its importance, it’s very necessary to do so. Here are some tips that can help.

Having a conversation about suicide
It’s not easy to talk about it, but it’s very necessary. To pass up the opportunity is a mistake.

Ask openly

Although it’s uncomfortable and painful, if you suspect that someone close to you has ideas about suicidal, it’s always best to ask openly about it. This will allow for a space for emotional expression and release, help build bridges, and reduce the other person’s feeling of loneliness.

With this question, they will know that you care about their well-being and that you’re concerned and willing to accompany and help.

Listen actively

A person who’s thinking about taking his or her own life is in a painful process. She or he needs understanding. But to understand him or her, it’s essential to listen to what this person has to say.

Take a genuine interest in what he or she is feeling, and show yourself close and available. Don’t be shocked by his or her words or try to stop him or her from talking about it. Emotional venting is necessary.

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Be empathic and validate the other person’s suffering

It’s not always easy to be empathic. When a suicidal person talks to us about his or her feelings and motives, we may tend to invalidate and minimize them.

“We all have problems, it’s no big deal; it’s just a rough patch,” are common responses. These phrases don’t actually help, because even if we don’t understand it, the suffering of the other person is so great that they feel like there’s no way out. To alleviate their pain and accompany them, it’s essential to legitimately listen to their feelings.

Don’t judge them or make moral reproaches

Often, many people avoid talking about suicide for fear of being judged by those closest to them. It may be incomprehensible to you that someone would want to take his or her own life; you may even find it morally reprehensible. However, don’t judge.

Calling the person out on his or her behavior, criticizing him or her, or making him or her feel guilty or ashamed isn’t the way to help. No one understands what another feels if he or she is not in his or her shoes. Sometimes, when life confronts us with challenges that exceed our ability to cope, giving up may seem like the only way out.

Offer and encourage social support

At this time, it’s critical that you offer unconditional support, companionship, and presence. Dedicate your time and attention to that person not by making them feel watched or persecuted, but by showing genuine love and concern.

Social support is a strong protective element in these cases, so it’s advisable to strengthen the person’s support network and remind them that you’re there for them.

people talking about suicide
Support should be clearly present. The person needs to understand that others are there to help.

Talk about available alternatives and avenues of support

First and foremost, when talking about suicide, it’s important to focus on available alternatives and solutions. When the other person opens up to us and tells us what is troubling and tormenting them, we need to help them gain a broader perspective.

People with suicidal ideation often have a depressive attributional style; that is, they interpret the bad things that happen to them as their fault and believe that they affect all areas of their life and are impossible to change. This generates a sense of hopelessness and helplessness that leads them to see no way out.

Helping them to find the light at the end of the tunnel, the available solutions and encouraging them to seek professional help are the most relevant tasks in these cases.

Talking about suicide can save lives

In short, it’s time to break the taboo surrounding suicide and begin to make it visible and normalize it. Those who contemplate ending their own lives as an alternative need to find listening, empathy, and support from their environment; they need to express what they think and feel.

When we offer the possibility of talking about it, we build a bridge that makes a difference as long as we do it in an appropriate way. So let’s avoid silence and sensationalism and focus on prevention. Talking about suicide can help save lives.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Herrera Ramírez, R., Ures Villar, M. B., & Martínez Jambrina, J. J. (2015). El tratamiento del suicidio en la prensa española:¿ efecto werther o efecto papageno?. Revista de la Asociación Española de Neuropsiquiatría35(125), 123-134.
  • Marchetti, I., Alloy, L. B., & Koster, E. H. (2019). Breaking the vise of hopelessness: Targeting its components, antecedents, and context.
  • Priester, M. J., & Clum, G. A. (1992). Attributional style as a diathesis in predicting depression, hopelessness, and suicide ideation in college students. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment14(2), 111-122.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.