Suicide Prevention Month: #BeThe1To Ask

Over the course of the month of September, the SITREP will be posting information weekly on five action steps for communicating with someone who may be suicidal. This week, the first step is ASK.

You can also find resources and information at the SITREP at the Suicide Prevention page.

How Does Asking Someone Who May Be Suicidal Help?

Asking the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” communicates that you’re open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way. Asking in this direct, unbiased manner, can open the door for effective dialogue about their emotional pain and can allow everyone involved to see what next steps need to be taken. Other questions you can ask include, “How do you hurt?” and “How can I help?” Do not ever promise to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret.

The flip side of the “Ask” step is to “Listen.” Make sure you take their answers seriously and not to ignore them, especially if they indicate they are experiencing thoughts of suicide. Listening to their reasons for being in such emotional pain, as well as listening for any potential reasons they want to continue to stay alive, are both incredibly important when they are telling you what’s going on. Help them focus on their reasons for living and avoid trying to impose your reasons for them to stay alive.

Why Does This Work?

Studies show that asking at-risk individuals1 if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts. In fact, studies suggest the opposite: findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide2 may in fact reduce rather than increase3 suicidal ideation.




1 Mathias, C.W., Furr, R.M., Sheftall, A.H., Hill-Katpurczak, N., Crum, P. & Dougherty, D.M., (2012). What’s the Harm in Asking About Suidicidal Ideation?, Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 42(3), 341-351.

2 Gould, M.S., Marrocco, F.A., Kleinman, M., Thomas, J.G., Mostkoff, K., Cote, J. & Davies, M. (2005). Evaluating iatrogenic risk of youth suicide screening programs: a randomized controlled trials. JAMA, 293(13), 1635-1643, doi: 10.1001/jama.293.13.1635.

3 Dazzi, T., Gribble, R., Wessely, S. & Fear, N.T. (2014). Does asking about suicide and related behaviors induce suicidal ideation? What is the evidence? Psychological Medicine, 44(16), 3361-3363. doi: 10.1017/S0033291714001299.