It’s a common myth that talking about suicide may cause people to start thinking about killing themselves or encourage suicidal behavior. But research shows that talking openly about suicide actually dismantles stigma, reminds people they have a support system, and creates space for people to share what they are feeling. Despair, depression, and hopelessness thrive in isolation. If we want to succeed in lowering the rate of military suicide, we have to be able to have open dialogue.

Above all, safety is the most crucial concern when you’re talking about suicide because anyone you speak to could be at risk. When talking about suicide, show compassion and be prepared to provide resources. Here are some additional tips.

Choose Your Words Thoughtfully

Before you speak, it is critical that you know your audience and your goals. If you’re talking to someone who is at risk of attempting suicide, the goal is to keep them safe. For survivors of a suicide attempt or suicide loss of a loved one, the goal is to destigmatize suicide so shame isn’t added to their already complex feelings. In general, whatever you say shouldn’t reinforce the stigma.

Be thoughtful about word choice:

  • Instead of saying “committed suicide,” say “died by suicide.”

  • “Suicide attempt” is more respectful than “failed attempt.”

  • “Died by suicide” is more respectful than “successful/completed attempt.”

  • Instead of saying “they were suicidal,” say “they had suicidal thoughts” or “they showed suicidal behaviors.”

In general, choose words that are clear and direct. Don’t use euphemisms for death (e.g., passed on) or self-harm. Don’t use disrespectful terms for mental illness (e.g., crazy).

How (and Where) You Talk Matters

By being open, sincere, and confident when you talk about suicide, you can break taboos and dismantle stigma. Check your body language, eye contact, and emotional cues to ensure that what you’re communicating with words is supported by consistent physical cues. Be calm, compassionate, and listen.

Don’t whisper or speak in hushed tones–having suicidal thoughts is not a shameful topic. It’s crucial that we all learn to say “suicide” out loud with respect, calm, and confidence.

In case you ever speak with someone whom you believe is at risk, be prepared to do the following:

  • Try to bring up the topic in a private place where you can speak openly.

  • Start the conversation with something like, “I’ve noticed you’re not yourself lately” or “I’ve been worried about you.” Whatever you say, start the sentence with “I” instead of “you.”

  • Ask about suicide directly. “I’ve noticed you’ve seemed down lately. With all you’ve been going through, have you been thinking about suicide?”

  • Listen and don’t interrupt. Validate what they’re feeling. Don’t immediately offer solutions. This may be the only opportunity they’ve had to talk.

  • Show support. Remind them that you care and you’ll be there to support them.

  • Encourage them to seek help and be ready to help them find resources.

If the person is in crisis, keeping them safe is the first goal. Remove means of self-harm, and stay connected to them while they contact the next level of support. Then follow up to let them know you care.

For more tips, read “What to Do If Someone Says They’re Having Suicidal Thoughts.

Are you concerned about a service member or veteran? Ask them how they are doing, ask directly if they are having thoughts of suicide, and offer your support. We welcome U.S. veterans and service members as well as concerned loved ones to use our Get Help form to get connected to support. Stop Soldier Suicide offers suicide prevention, virtual mental health counseling, and safety planning 100% free to U.S. veterans and service members.