How to Talk About Suicide

“You are not weak

just because your heart feels so heavy.

I have never met a heavy heart that wasn’t a phone booth

with a red cape inside.”

-Andrea Gibson

When someone dies by suicide, it is an immense tragedy, not just for the life lost, but for the ripple effect that tears through friends and family members as they try to understand and process the act. Often, those left behind experience intense feelings of guilt, wondering if they could have done something to prevent it. 

Should I have reached out to talk? Were there signs I should have noticed? Could I have done something to prevent this from happening?

Every year, millions of lives are affected by suicide, yet many mental health struggles continue to remain shrouded in silence, and those experiencing suicidal thoughts do not receive the help they need before it’s too late.

One of the significant barriers to effective suicide prevention is the persistent stigma surrounding mental health. Societal misconceptions and outdated beliefs have contributed to an environment where individuals experiencing mental health challenges may feel reluctant to seek help. Addressing this stigma is the first step toward having more productive and effective conversations about mental health and suicide prevention, as it not only hinders discourse but also perpetuates a culture of silence and shame.

This article will explore how to talk about suicide in a way that empowers proactive communication, recognizes warning signs, and supports those struggling with mental health or self-destructive behavior issues.

Suicide: The Quiet Struggle

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and over 700,000 people commit suicide all over the world every year. These alarming statistics highlight the urgent need to prioritize suicide awareness and prevention. Opening a national dialogue to address contributing factors to suicide risk—like isolation, financial stressors, chronic physical illnesses, and lack of access to mental health resources—is crucial. It’s also important to teach people how to recognize warning signs and have those difficult conversations one-on-one with friends or family members who may be thinking about suicide.

Normalizing supportive conversations about emotional well-being creates opportunities for early intervention. It also combats alienation, which can often compound mental health struggles. Compassionate communication and collective responsiveness are the keys to reducing rising suicide rates.

Addressing the Stigma Around Mental Health

The stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide is one of the biggest barriers to suicide awareness and prevention. Negative stereotypes depict those with mental health issues as unstable, incompetent, and dangerous. This prevents many struggling individuals from seeking help due to shame, fear of judgment, and lack of understanding within their communities. 

Challenging the stigma with accurate information and empathy is key to creating welcoming environments where people feel safe discussing suicidal thoughts without backlash. Promoting education and openness about mental health dispels harmful myths, encourages people to seek help, and saves lives.

Reducing Stigma Around Mental Health

Creating cultural shifts where mental health struggles are destigmatized requires both individual and collective action. Here are some methods that can help reduce prejudices and provide a better understanding of these issues.

Understanding and Challenging Stigmas

Better understanding begins with the individual. Reflect on your own assumptions about mental illness and suicide and the common stereotypes that depict people with mental health issues as responsible for their struggles rather than victims of disease. 

Research shows mental illnesses have biological, environmental, and genetic underpinnings outside of one’s control. When misconceptions color attitudes towards those with emotional struggles and put them in a category outside of ourselves, true understanding and empathy become impossible. Realizing that people going through these challenges are just like you and me helps us put ourselves in their position and better grasp what they are going through.

Having Genuine Conversations About Mental Health

Silence and secrecy only make stigmas worse. Open dialogue and education are the only ways to break down the barriers of our understanding and allow us to work toward genuine solutions. 

Prominent individuals sharing stories about living with mental illness help humanize these struggles. The sad caricature we sometimes associate with mental health struggles is far from reality. Often, those struggling work very hard to hide it, and may appear completely “normal” to those around them. That’s why it’s so important to speak openly about what’s going on inside.

Grassroots mental health awareness campaigns through media platforms, community events, trainings, and support groups also help normalize these issues. Workplaces and schools should prioritize mental health education alongside physical health programs. Multi-level efforts to increase accurate public knowledge about mental illness and suicide prevention can help dismantle stigmas and shift the public perception of suicide awareness.

Openly Addressing Suicide Prevention

Addressing the stigma around mental health helps get to the root of the problem, but it’s also critical to have tough conversations about suicide itself. These conversations should occur not just in response to crisis, but as a part of an ongoing dialogue we have as a society.

At Eterneva, we don't shy away from hard topics, and suicide is certainly a tough one. Here is a personal letter from our CEO and Co-founder, Adelle Archer, sharing our stance on suicide awareness and prevention.

"At Eterneva, one of the most important things we want everyone to remember is that people are defined by how they lived, not by how they died. Our loved ones deserve to be revered for their bright personalities, the way they laughed, how they chose to spend their time—and all the little things that made them truly one of a kind.

As a culture, we’ve gotten better at talking about mental health. However, we don’t often talk about suicide, which is a leading cause of death. This is something I feel very strongly about personally—as my maternal grandmother passed away from suicide before I was even born—and as a company. At Eterneva, we are passionate about not letting someone’s cause of death be their brand; rather, we look forward to celebrating how they lived.

The only way we can continue to bring brightness and meaning to loss is to unlock important conversations around suicide and mental health. I want to share a friendly reminder that maintaining good mental hygiene starts with self-awareness. That means taking time daily for self-reflection. Journaling, meditation, or deep breathing exercises can help calm your mind and reduce stress. Reach out to friends and family for support; those human connections are invaluable! And always remember, there's no shame in asking for professional help. Together, we can make a positive difference in our lives and the lives of those around us." - Adelle Archer, Eterneva CEO and Co-founder

Why It’s Important to Talk About Suicide

Conversations about suicide often arise only after the tragic loss of life. However, talking openly about suicide before warning signs escalate can encourage help-seeking and provide crucial support. Setting up the space for dialogue in schools, workplaces, places of worship, and communities reminds at-risk individuals they are not alone while also encouraging the proper allocation of resources and knowledge to necessary support systems. 

Open Communication in Various Settings

To be effective, the approach to suicide prevention must be multifaceted. Conversations about mental health need to exist in a variety of institutions and settings in order to shift the narrative across our country. Suicide Awareness Month does a great job of raising this issue into the public consciousness, but we need to introduce further continuous education to change the way people think about suicide.


Schools should incorporate age-appropriate suicide awareness and mental health education into school curriculums to reach students during critical developmental phases. This equips youth to identify signs of distress in themselves or their peers by normalizing conversations about emotional struggles. School counselors should also receive resources to spearhead trainings, peer support programs, crisis response protocols, and community referrals.


Employers should foster work cultures that facilitate open dialogues about mental health without fear of professional penalties. Providing robust Employee Assistance Programs, trainings about warning signs, peer support networks, and messaging from leadership teams about prioritizing emotional well-being is critical. Employees can play pivotal roles by checking in on one another and exhibiting compassion and understanding to their co-workers.


Communities that congregate together and share social bonds, such as religious groups, community centers, sports teams, and local nonprofits, can be the focal points of grassroots mental health campaigns tailored to specific groups and unique cultural needs. Support groups, training seminars, resource directories, and town halls should emphasize suicide prevention and emotional well-being as communal responsibilities. Communities that rally around vulnerability cultivate environments where struggling members will receive help.

Recognizing Warning Signs

While not everyone expressing suicidal thoughts or displaying symptoms of mental unwellness will attempt suicide, certain behaviors do constitute warning signs that warrant intervention. Recognizing these red flags is critical for early support.

Common Signs of Mental Health Struggles

Depression, anxiety, withdrawal from loved ones, sleeping issues, anger, recklessness, mood swings, and a sense of feeling trapped often indicate emotional distress. While not inherently suicidal, these mental health symptoms increase risk as they intensify. Loved ones noticing dramatic personality shifts, often accompanied by statements expressing hopelessness or lack of purpose, should address changes observed through compassionate checking in.

Identifying Risk Factors for Suicide

Several factors, especially in combination, elevate the risk of suicide. These include previous attempts, family history of suicide, chronic medical ailments, substance abuse, loneliness, impulsive tendencies, and access to tools of self-harm. 

Adolescents and seniors are at heightened risk—youth due to emotional volatility amidst trauma or bullying, and elders because of isolation and declining health. People recently discharged from hospitals or justice system facilities also carry increased risk of suicide attempts.

The Importance of Early Intervention

Suicidal thoughts often intensify over prolonged periods as a person becomes more isolated and falls deeper into their own thoughts. It may be hard for some to understand, but it can be incredibly difficult to summon the courage to ask for help when you are engulfed in despair. It can be scary and embarrassing to admit you need help, and you may worry how the person you are telling will react or perceive you.

If someone confides suicidal urges, it means that, deep down, they are hoping for help and intervention. Connecting struggling individuals with the right mental health support early on is crucial, even if someone has just mentioned thoughts of self-harm in passing. Don’t just assume someone isn’t serious or is just blowing off steam.

Tips for Talking About Suicide with Someone Experiencing Mental Health Struggles

Talking about suicide is difficult. Even attempting to bring up the subject can leave you grasping for the right words to say. Here are some dos and don’ts for effectively discussing suicidal thoughts while still providing non-judgmental support.

Creating a Safe and Non-judgmental Space

Broach the topic privately and gently, while focusing on listening over lecturing. You can say you’ve noticed a change in behavior lately and want to check in about their well-being without assuming anything. Reassure them that struggles are common, getting help is nothing to be ashamed of, and remember to put compassion over condemnation.

Active Listening and Empathy

Ask open-ended questions about life: How do they feel about what they’re doing now? What are their plans for the future? How are their other friends and family? Try to relate to their feelings without pretending to perfectly understand every little thing. Encourage perseverance and remind them suicidal urges often stem from temporary mindsets that can be overcome through support or will pass with time.

Offering Resources and Encouraging Professional Help

Provide information for suicide prevention hotlines or share access to personal counseling from a trained professional. Effective treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, medications, community connections, or lifestyle changes can improve many mental illnesses and suicidal mindsets.

Be a friend and compassionate listener. Don’t try to single-handedly treat complex mental health issues yourself. Instead, offer to help contact school counselors, psychiatrists, local nonprofits, or whomever they prefer to assist them in long-term recovery.

Tips for Talking About Suicide with Friends and Family Who Have Lost Someone

Witnessing suicide’s devastating aftermath can leave loved ones reeling. The tragic loss of life, the painful “what ifs”, and the unanswered questions can devastate those around the victim of suicide. It can be difficult to find the right words to console those who have lost someone close to suicide, but here’s some advice:

Expressing Condolences and Empathy

When you speak with bereaved loved ones, it’s important to let them know that it’s okay to feel whatever they’re feeling. Complex grief reactions like denial, fear, guilt, shame, anger, or disappointment are common, often all at once. Check in on them often, especially on heavy days, like victim’s birthdays, anniversaries of their death, and awareness days like International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, and offer to help them find professional support if they need it. 

Acknowledging Grief and Providing Emotional Support

The profound trauma and stigmatization of suicide often torment surviving friends and family. If it helps, you can remind them that over 90% of suicides stem from treatable mental illnesses that cloud judgment and narrow one’s thinking, limiting their ability to make rational choices. Many suicide survivors express regret and relief that they failed in the momentary act. Often, suicide is a mistake, something that overtakes someone in a moment of pain and anguish, not a failure of the people around them to care or love. 

However, it’s also important to remember that compassion and gentle self-care reminders do more good than judgments and armchair psychology.

Encouraging Professional Grief Counseling

While emotional support from the community can help the grief process, some aspects may require professional help. Accredited counselors, therapists, and support groups specializing in suicide grief trauma may be better equipped to provide the support needed to make it through mourning. 

The isolation, shame, guilt, and denial may require delicate guidance and context best offered through mental health professionals. Local nonprofits also provide peer-based grief counseling that caters to suicide-specific healing.

Dial 988

A critical resource in suicide prevention and mental health crisis care is Lifeline: the Suicide & Crisis Hotline. When people dial 988, they are connected to trained crisis counselors via call, text, or chat who are part of the entire 988 Lifeline network. These crisis counselors are trained to provide free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress and connect them to resources. Lifeline support is available 24/7 across the United States.

Words That Can Save Lives

Destigmatizing conversations about suicide and mental health issues is our collective responsibility. Each small act of listening without judgment, checking in on loved ones’ struggles, or sharing stories of perseverance chips away at the stigma and isolation a person feels when struggling with mental health. 

Likewise, offering professional help to those who need it and being proactive as a society to address this growing issue is crucial. Suicide and mental health struggles are not to be feared or hidden away. Talking openly about suicide is the first step to prevention and helping those struggling to get well.