Have the conversation

Suicide is hard to talk about. It’s stressful and uncomfortable for many people. It takes courage and the knowledge that you can make a difference. For someone who’s struggling, starting a conversation is one of the most important things you can do.

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Suggestions for Starting a Conversation

Before you talk

You don’t need to wait for a perfect time, but it helps to first think about how you will start a conversation. Learning about which services are available in your community to support someone who may be considering suicide will help you be prepared if the person needs more help than you’re able to offer. See the Where  to Get Help section of this website to learn where you and the person you’re concerned about can go for help.

How to start the conversation

First, find the right time and place to have this important conversation. Most people will share more in a comfortable, private and quiet environment with few interruptions.

Begin the conversation by telling them that you’ve noticed they’re acting differently. Share specific things you’ve noticed and that you’re concerned about them. Ask if they have anything they want to talk about.

Conversation Starters


“Hey, I’ve noticed you’ve been acting agitated lately, is everything ok?”


“I’ve noticed you’ve been joking about wanting to die a lot lately, is everything ok?”


“Hey, you don’t seem yourself lately, do you want to talk about it?”


You don’t have to know all the answers. Sometimes just listening to someone can give them the support they need in that moment.


Start by asking if they are thinking of suicide, even if you only see some of the warning signs.

“Are you thinking about suicide?” or “are you thinking about killing yourself?” As much as possible, try to use the same words they are using.

It sounds direct, but that’s because it’s meant to be. Try not to replace “suicide” with “hurting yourself.”

Asking about suicide will not put the idea in someone’s head. Instead, asking them directly will show that you care and that you’re someone they can talk to. They may even be relieved to have the opportunity to talk about it.

If they answer yes they are considering suicide, then ask if they have a plan and what the timeline is. If the answer is no, remind them of your concern for their behaviour and invite them to keep connected with you and that you are there to support them through whatever struggles they are experiencing.

If they do have a plan and timeline, get them in touch with professionals who can help right away or call 911 if they are in immediate danger. If you feel that someone may attempt suicide right away, do not leave them alone. This person needs your support more than ever.

Don’t promise secrecy. Seek out the support of the right professionals.


Let the person considering suicide know that you genuinely care about them and the pain they are experiencing. Tell them you want to help and that there are resources to help them. Remind them that living is an option and reassure them that they can learn to cope with their challenges and painful experiences.

What not to say

People considering suicide are vulnerable and they need your non-judgmental support. Remember they are sharing their thoughts and feelings with you with the hope that you can help. You can choose to show your care and concern in a way that helps them feel less alone and that can encourage them to get the help they need.

  • Avoid acting out in frustration or anger and telling the person to do it. This is dangerous for a suicidal person to hear. They need to hear that you care whether they live or die and that you do not want them to end their life.
  • Avoid telling the person they are being selfish or cowardly. They are already suffering and they need your care and compassion.
  • Avoid saying things that dismiss the person’s feelings, seriousness or the reasons they are considering suicide. Aim to listen with empathy while taking the person seriously as this will help them feel heard and understood.
  • Avoid accusing them of just looking for attention. If a person is taking about suicide, they are suffering. Their painful emotions are real for them and they need caring attention, and not to be dismissed.

Assess the immediate risk

When a person tells you they are considering suicide, this may be a vague idea, a long term plan or it may be that they are in immediate danger.

A person should be considered at high risk of attempting suicide if they have:

  • Made a specific plan
  • Access to the means to carry out their plan
  • Researched into ways to die
  • Started to prepare for a suicide
  • Rehearsed their plan
  • A time chosen that is in the near future
  • A statement that they will end their life

Make a safety plan based on the immediate risk

If you believe that the person considering suicide is at high risk, call the Distress Line (780-482-4357), Access 24/7 at 780-424-2424 or 911.

Make a plan to keep the person safe. Ask if they have access to anything lethal and if they do, safely remove the items or encourage the person to leave that environment. Only do so if it is safe to. If they are in immediate danger of becoming injured or dying, call 911 or go with them to the nearest emergency department.

If the person is not in immediate danger, ask what would help to keep them safe until they get the support they need. It might be something as simple as a phone call or weekly coffee to check up on them.

Use resources in the person’s network like family or friends and existing relationships with health care practitioners. Try to involve others that the person trusts in the conversation.

Provide information on the local resources available to help.

Follow up

The conversation is a significant beginning and it is also important to follow up with the person who shared their suicidal thoughts. Some may never again feel that suicide is an option and others will revisit the option again. Staying in touch will show you care about their well-being whether they are in crisis or not.

Make the time to:

  • Listen to how they are doing and how they are coping
  • Show compassion and empathy for the struggles they still experience
  • Ask if they are still considering suicide
  • Ask if they have been receiving the help, supports or treatments they need
  • Offer encouragement and support for healthy choices and behaviours
  • Share that they matter to you and that you care about the relationship
  • Encourage them to stay in contact and continue talking with you
  • Share that you are glad they made the choice to live

Take care of yourself too

It’s important to know your own boundaries. No one expects you to be an expert. You’re there to support your friend, family member or coworker by listening and letting them tell their story. Recognize when it’s the right time to suggest talking to a professional. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unable to help someone the way they need it, explain to them why they need to get further help by talking to a professional.

Suicide is a heavy and stressful topic, and you may need someone to talk to yourself. Seek the support of your loved ones and even the support of a professional if you need it.