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Helping Someone Who May Be Suicidal

If you are worried that a coworker or student may be considering suicide, it is all right to ask directly if he or she is thinking about killing himself or herself. Mental health professionals assess suicide potential, in part, by asking:

  • What is your plan for suicide; exactly how will you do it?
  • Do you have access to a means, such as pills or a weapon?
  • When and where do you intend to carry out the plan?
  • Have you ever attempted suicide before? If so, how and when?

The more specific and lethal the plan, the more recent a previous attempt and the greater the ability to carry out the plan, the higher the risk for a successful suicide. Asking these questions will not increase the risk of a suicide attempt. For people who are considering suicide, these questions will not provide them with new ideas. Most people who are actively suicidal are very willing to discuss their plan. Note: many people consider suicide from time to time in passing. The less specific and lethal the plan (e.g., "I guess I'd take a couple of sleeping pills sometime"), the less likely a suicide attempt.

Referring a Coworker or Student Who May Be Suicidal 

Suppose that you have been talking with a coworker or student and are so concerned that the person is at risk for suicide that you would feel uncomfortable if he or she simply walked away. In such a case, you should indicate to the coworker or student that you need to immediately elevate your concerns; consider a supervisor, manager, or contacting FASAP, JHSAP or Occupational Health directly.

Often, once you have contacted the on-call clinician, you can arrange for the coworker or student to speak to the him or her directly on the phone and to make follow-up arrangements to meet with the clinician. It may be determined in consultation with the on-call clinician that it is best for you to escort the person to allow for an assessment.