Module 3: Talking about suicide Risk: How you ask makes a difference


Your involvement can reduce riskSuicide is still a taboo subject in our culture that is not openly discussed. However, talking about suicide is essential to detecting a person’s risk.

Because you’ll be discussing a difficult subject, remember that it is often more important to listen without judgment to someone who is willing to open up to you than to give advice.

Ask open-ended questions, provide support and empathy, don’t close the door, brainstorm solutions and next steps, and elicit a commitment to further action.

Asking Open-Ended Questions: Dos & Don’ts

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Provide support
  • Show empathy
  • Brainstorm solutions and next steps
  • Elicit a commitment to further action
  • Don’t ask closed-ended questions, instead ask open-ended questions
  • Don’t underplay issues or discount concerns, instead be supportive and empathetic
  • Don’t express relief at no or low risk responses, instead reinforce your willingness to talk in the future
  • Don’t try to solve problems, instead brainstorm solutions and next steps together
  • Don’t tell faith members what to do, instead seek agreement on next steps

If someone is exhibiting any warning signs of suicide or has any of the underlying risks for suicide, it is always a good idea to ask if she is thinking about or planning her suicide. If the answer is “Yes, I do think of suicide,” you must take it seriously.

While this module has primarily emphasized talking about suicide risk and exploring risk with a faith member about whom you are concerned, the next module will address steps, strategies, and best practices for working with faith members with different levels of risk.