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Suicide Help: Get Familiar, Get Talking, Get Educated

Suicide help can be an intimidating topic

Even using the word suicide can halt a conversation. Unfortunately, this tends to lead to fear, shame, and silence. What we know – undoubtedly – is that fear, shame, and silence are not the answer.

Below are a few things to know about suicide help, and a few areas that might help you get familiar and comfortable thinking, and maybe even talking about the topic.

Communicate with your loved ones and friends about suicide help

Ask questions, check in, and notice when something feels off. Instead of asking, “Why have you been so grumpy lately?” or “Why are you so sad all the time?” try, “I noticed you’ve been a little down/sad/frustrated lately. I wanted to check in. How are things going?” or “I’ve been a little worried about you lately. How are you doing? Is there anything I can do to help?”

Don’t panic

Suicide sounds scary, and feels overwhelming. However, responding with panic, fear, shaming, or judgment (“I can’t believe you would even think that” or “That’s so selfish”) is unhelpful. Remember that while it may be hard to hear about suicidal thoughts, it is quite a bit more difficult and painful to have them. Respond with kindness and empathy.

Work on support, but be careful with advice

Supportive statements: I’m so sorry things have been so hard; Please know that I’m here for you; Is there anything I can do?; I’m here to talk any time; I care about you; I’m happy to help you find some help

Advice statements: Anything that starts with “You just need to ______” or “You should just ____” You may be tempted to tell people that they just need to “be grateful for what they have” or “try to be more positive” or other things that you think would help or fix the problem. Best practice is to avoid these statements – you may not mean to, but you are implying that the fix is very easy if they would only try harder, and that often isn’t fair and doesn’t feel good.

Think of it this way: If you’re sick, what do you appreciate and need more? The person who says “What can I get you?” and encourages you to get some rest, or the person who tells you that you wouldn’t have gotten sick if you were exercising and eating better? Advice may be appealing in our desire to help or fix, but can often be shaming and invalidating. In our above example, the person who tells you that you should have been exercising and eating better might mean well, but that advice is not going to “fix” your cold, it’s just going to make you feel ashamed that you have one in the first place.

Know your resources (local and national). The internet has a wide variety of resources and tools for suicide help; here are a few:

  • Local resources are often available, so search “Suicide Hotline” or “Crisis Center” in your area for information.
  • Local to the Hope Springs Behavioral Consultants practice is the Johnson County Crisis Center, which has a phone and web-based chat function. The Crisis Center have trained staff available to speak with anyone, youth and adults, about their concerns. Visit:,  Chat:,  24hr Crisis Line: (319) 351-0140.
  • Providers: A provider that you are already familiar with, such as a primary care provider or physician may be a good place to start to address mental health concerns. They may be able to provide referral information and other resources, such as local psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health specialists.
  • If there is an immediate safety risk, an office visit to a provider is likely not the appropriate place to start. If you are worried that you or a loved one is not safe, Call 911, or take yourself or your loved one to the Emergency Room. Locally, both Mercy Hospitals and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics have inpatient and crisis response care for mental health needs.
  • National Websites:

There are many others. Search for yourself and get familiar with what resources are out there.

Watch what you say

There is a problem that creeps up in this topic that few of us even notice in the course of our day to day conversations. There are casual references to suicide everywhere. Have you ever said a phrase like “If I have to do one more of these reports, I’m going to blow my brains out” or “If I have to go to one more stupid work meeting, I’m going to kill myself!” It’s a little bit painful, even to write. Yet somehow, these things are often said in jest, or to be light-hearted. It’s often clear that the speaker means no harm, and isn’t intending to make light of something so serious. There’s no need to shame yourself or others for phrases like this – but let’s all start asking: Is there another way I can express this

Online communication makes it easy to say things. Impulsivity, getting caught up in an argument, getting carried away with a joke – all of these things can make it tempting or easier to say things that shouldn’t be said. Don’t tell someone to hurt themselves. Don’t tell them they should die. Don’t tell them they aren’t worthwhile. It truly never needs to be said. Don’t say it. Call out others when they say it. Words matter; take responsibility for yours, and be brave in asking others to do the same.

“Words matter; take responsibility for yours, and be brave in asking others to do the same.”

Mollie Burke, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist

Watch what you don’t say

If you know someone is struggling, or if they have made concerning statements (“My life isn’t worth living” “I’ve got nothing to live for” “There’s no point”) or illusions to suicide, say something. Out of our discomfort, many of us choose silence. Please don’t. Tell someone else in the person’s life (a parent, a spouse), tell someone who can help (a school counselor, a mentor), offer resources, and offer support.

“Out of our discomfort, many of us choose silence. Please don’t.”

This article is not intended to help you take responsibility for others’ safety, or to serve in place of seeking professional help. Resources and trained professionals, of which there are many in the Iowa City and Coralville area, are an important part of treatment, safety, and recovery.

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