Worrying that your student is contemplating suicide might be one of the scariest thoughts you have ever had, and having that conversation may not seem easy. However, it is important to realize that asking directly can be an important step. 

Based on the guides from the Society for Prevention of Teen Suicide, here are some steps for navigating the conversation:

Step 1: Acknowledge and face the situation.

While being in a situation that might be beyond your capacity to fix, it is important to remember that your role is to be supportive and attentive. Listen to your student’s needs and concerns and if necessary seek professional help.

Step 2: Recognize warning signs.

Before asking your student, notice FACTS (Feelings, Actions, Changes, Threats, Situations). Do they suddenly become irritable or disengaged? Have they threatened to kill themselves or experienced traumatic situations? Are other people worried about your student? Visit the How to Know if Something is an Emergency page to learn more about warning signs and risk factors. 

Step 3: Ask questions and listen to the answers

If you suspect that your student may be contemplating suicide, be direct and just ask. Remember: asking the question won’t plant the idea in their mind. Acknowledge that you might not understand, but that you care very much and you will try to understand. The following list can help you approach the conversation.

Ways to start the conversation (from Maine.gov):

  • You haven’t seemed like yourself recently, what’s been going on?
  • I know that some difficult things have happened recently, I’m concerned about how you’re feeling.

Once you’ve opened up conversation, it’s important to ask directly about suicidal intent. The following questions may be useful (from QPR, Save.org, and Maine.gov):

  • Are you having thoughts about suicide?
  • Are you currently having thoughts about killing yourself?
  • Sometimes when people feel the way you do, they think about taking their lives. I’m wondering if you’ve ever felt that way?
  • Do you ever feel so bad that you think about suicide?
  • Do you feel like things will never get better?
  • Have you been feeling like killing yourself is an answer to your problem?
  • Have you ever considered suicide? Are you suicidal now?

If your student’s answer is “yes”, ask the following questions (from Save.org):

  • Do you have a plan to kill yourself or take your life?
  • Have you thought about when you would do it (today, tomorrow, next week)?
  • Have you thought about what method you would use?

Remember to take a non-judgemental approach and just listen. Instead of trying to change their mind or shame them, simply say “tell me more.” 

If your student is reluctant to talk to you, tell them you understand that they don’t want to talk to you but ask if they would agree to talk about it with someone else, like a counselor at SHAC

Step 4: Initiate the Emergency Process

If your student is currently on campus and suicidal, please initiate the Emergency process.

Step 5: Realize you’re not alone

This isn’t easy, but it’s important. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) for advice on local resources, if you need to.