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For many people, suicide can be a very painful topic to discuss. It’s the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, which means it’s likely that you or someone you know has felt the impact of it in some way. But though the conversation is difficult, it’s an important one to have. Spreading awareness and speaking about suicide openly helps everyone more easily recognize its signs, empowering each of us to support and help those we love.

Maybe you have questions about suicide, but you’ve been too afraid to ask them. To help start the conversation, here are five common questions about suicide, answered by Behavioral Health Consultants with CCI Health & Wellness Services.

If you or a loved one is feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicidal Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741 to speak with a counselor.

What are the warning signs of suicide?

Suicidal ideation can manifest in different ways depending on the person. Still, there are a few key characteristics that you should look out for if you suspect someone you know is feeling suicidal.

People experiencing suicidal ideation may be in a continual state of despair. They may lose interest in doing things they once enjoyed and isolate themselves from those they care about. They may even ask their friends and family troubling questions, such as “would you miss me if I were gone?”

And it’s essential to take note of sudden behavioral changes as well, even if those changes are seemingly positive. For example, a shift in mood from sadness to contention could signify that the person is at peace with their plan to commit suicide. At that point, it’s time to have a heart-to-heart talk about the situation and pursue intervention if necessary. Learn more about the warning signs of suicide.

What are some misconceptions about suicide?

Misconceptions and myths about suicide are everywhere, further stigmatizing those who struggle with ideation and fostering harmful beliefs about the issue.

One of the most common misconceptions about suicide is that someone who expresses ideation is only doing it for attention. That’s very rarely the case. If someone is talking about suicide, they are thinking about it. And regardless of a person’s intentions, we need to take the message they send seriously.

Many people also believe that if you speak about suicide to someone experiencing ideation, they will be more likely to attempt it. But talking about suicide won’t serve as encouragement for someone to do it. In fact, speaking candidly about it can lead to meaningful dialogue—and could ultimately save a life.

And it’s time that we move past the idea that suicidal ideation only happens to other people and couldn’t happen to ourselves. The reality is that ideation is very common and can occur to anyone amid difficult times in life. Thinking about suicide doesn’t necessarily mean that we will act on it, but even if we don’t have a plan, it’s best to find the help we need to ensure our thoughts don’t escalate. Learn more about the misconceptions of suicide.

What role does self-harm play in suicidal ideation?

Self-harming behaviors such as cutting are typically used in response to intense emotional pain, or in some cases, to create a sensation after long periods of numbness and indifference within a person. Research shows that 17% of adolescents will engage in self-harming behaviors at least one time in their lives.

While self-harming is dangerous behavior and a sign of severe emotional distress, it’s not typically associated with suicidal ideation. Moreover, an act of self-harm is not always a suicide attempt. However, further self-harming can turn into ideation without intervention or help.

If you or someone you know self-harms, you can find the help you need to heal. Text 741741 to speak with a crisis counselor.

How should we speak with someone who is in distress?

It can be frightening to speak with a friend or family member who is struggling with suicidal ideation. No one wants to say the wrong thing. But being there for someone doesn’t require any special expertise—you just need to be open, understanding, and compassionate. And above all, it’s not about what you have to say—it’s about your willingness to listen to what your friend or loved one needs to say.

If you’re concerned that someone you know is considering suicide, ask them, “are you thinking about ending your life?” It’s an uncomfortable question to ask, but it’s essential to be direct. And regardless of how the person may respond, assure them that you will be there for them. Offer them help in whatever way you can (but be mindful of your own emotional needs in the process.) Remember to try and be calm, and do your best to show genuine empathy for their situation. What Do I Say When Someone is Talking about Suicide?

Is there a specific way to respond to suicidal ideation in kids compared to adults?

Children as young as eight years old can encounter suicidal thoughts. The warning signs in younger children include intentional self-harming, asking questions about suicide, and drawing distressing pictures.

In the same way that we have to take suicide in adults seriously, we need to believe children when they express ideation. Undoubtedly, it’s frightening to hear a child speak about suicide. But since children look to parents and guardians for support, it’s critical to remain calm. The best thing you can do is be reassuring and gentle, letting your child know that you’re there for them amid this challenging period in their lives.

Assess the situation reasonably. If you feel that your child is in imminent danger, call 911 for emergency response. But if your child just needs someone to talk to, be an ear for them and show they can trust you. Teens and suicide: What parents should know

If you or a loved one is feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicidal Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741 to speak with a trained counselor.

One last thing to remember

There’s a lot you can do to support someone experiencing suicidal ideation—but you can’t do everything. It’s a heavy burden to believe that you are responsible for someone else’s safety, especially when they want to harm themselves. Do what you can to assist your loved ones, but always remember it’s up to them to find and attain the help they need to live well. Resources for Suicide Prevention

This blog post was based on an Ask Me Anything event hosted by CCI Health & Wellness Services. Watch the event on Facebook for more information about suicide.