Here's how to talk to someone about suicide concerns

Here's how to talk to someone about suicide concerns »Play Video
Kay Bruce (left), director of the counseling program at Western Seminary in Southeast Portland, says the best way to find out whether someone is thinking about suicide is to ask the person directly.

Just asking a question can save a life. But how do you ask a friend or family member if they are thinking of killing themselves?

Kay Bruce is director of the counseling program at Western Seminary in Southeast Portland.

Bruce said you can watch out for signs of distress in someone you love, such as depression, an emotional struggle, a major loss, some sort of public humiliation, like job loss, or bullying, and isolation.

You can also look for warning signs of suicide for adults and for teens.

But how do you know if they are seriously considering taking their own lives?
"There's no blood test to tell if someone is thinking about suicide," said Bruce. "The only way to know is to ask a question and ask very directly."

Bruce offered an example of what you could say.

"'Are you thinking about suicide? Because I really care about you and it's okay to talk about it.' And most people will be honest and say, 'Yes, I am thinking about it,'" said Bruce.

"If they say yes, I'd say, 'Thank you so much for sharing that. That has to be such a lonely feeling and I want to come along and help you. I know there are places we can get help. I would like to be your friend and walk alongside of you in this time, because it would just create terrible plain and tragedy for me if I were to lose you as a friend,'" said Bruce.

"The one way not to ask the question is, 'You're not thinking about suicide are you?'  Because that implies the answer is not a good answer to give," said Bruce

"It communicates, 'I'm scared to hear if you're thinking about suicide.' Most people want to please other people and they will say what they think you want to hear," she explained.

If the person says they are not considering suicide, Bruce offers a response. "I'm really glad that you're not because I care about you. If you ever did feel that way, I hope I'd be a safe person that you could talk to,'" said Bruce. "'Please let me know, though, if you ever have those thoughts or if I can help support you in some way.'"

Bruce said many people think of suicide during difficult times in their lives.

"Robin Williams isn't the only one who struggles with these kinds of thoughts. We have difficult times in life and we need each other to come together to support one another through those times. And there really is good help available," said Bruce.

Bruce said people in the community can come to a counseling session with the students she teaches for $10 a session, an option for someone who may be struggling financially as well as emotionally.

Here is a link to suicide prevention resources, including sites for teens.