Suicide Conversation Guide

Any time you think there is a possibility that a student is considering suicide, it is crucial that you take them seriously. If a student shares with you that they have had thoughts of suicide, follow the conversation guide below. After doing so, report all information to your coach or ministry leader promptly. This is a mandatory reporting situation. 

This conversation guide includes (1) Myths & Facts, (2) Suicide Warning Signs, (3) How to Respond When a Student Talks about Suicide, and (4) Questions to Ask

Myths & Facts

Myth: People who talk about suicide won't really do it. 

Fact: Almost everyone who attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. 

(Source: SAVE - Suicide Awareness Voices of Education)

Myth: Talking about suicide or asking someone if they feel suicidal will encourage suicide attempts.

Fact: Talking about suicide almost always decreases suicide risk because it provides the opportunity for communication. Fears that are shared are more likely to diminish.

(Source: Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention)

Myth: People who threaten suicide are just seeking attention.

Fact: All suicide attempts must be treated as though the person has the intent to die . . . It is likely that the young person has tried to gain attention and, therefore, this attention is needed. The attention they get may well save their lives.

(Source: Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention)

Myth: Suicidal young people are always angry when someone intervenes and they will resent that person afterwards.

Fact: While it is common for young people to be defensive and resist help at first, most adolescents considering suicide are relieved to have someone genuinely care about them . . . When questioned some time later, the vast majority express gratitude for the intervention.

(Source: Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention)

Suicide Warning Signs

  • Talking about suicide — statements such as "I'm going to kill myself," "I wish I were dead" or "I wish I hadn't been born”
  • Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won't be seen again
  • Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
  • Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence

How to Respond When a Student Talks about Suicide

  1. Stay Calm. Fight the urge to respond with shock/emotion. Instead, stay calm and talk very matter of factly. It lets them know you don’t think they’re a “freak.”
  2. Affirm their feelings. “I’m sure you feel very alone right now. I want you to know you are not alone, and there are many students your age who feel this way too.”
  3. Thank them for telling you. “Thank you for telling me. I’m proud of you for doing such a brave thing. I am so thankful for you.”
  4. Affirm their value. ”I value you so much as an individual, and God does too. God loves your uniqueness, and He is here with you now and always. You are precious to Him.”
  5. Ask direct questions. Remember, these questions will help them process their feelings.
    • DO ask questions that will help you assess their suicide risk and get them sharing specific details about their suicidal thoughts. A list of questions to ask is included below.
    • DON’T ask questions like “why would you do that?” or “why haven’t you told me?" These questions will make them feel shameful and will cause them to dwell even more on the reasons they felt like ending it in the first place. 
  6. Open up a conversation about telling their parents. 
      1. Ask: “Is there anyone else you think you need to talk to about this?”
      2. Suggest: “This is something your parents need to know about.” 
      3. Give 2 Choices: “Do you want me to talk to your parents, or do you want to be the one to do it?” There is no third option. Talk about this as if their parents will find out—because in the end, you are going to make sure they do.
      4. Offer to Help: “I would be willing to sit with you and even help you tell your parents. Would you like that?”
  7. Pray with them. 
    • Male student: “God, thank you so much for (student’s name). Thank you for creating (student’s name) and allowing me to be a part of his life. Thank you for giving (student’s name) the courage to talk to me about something so personal. Please help us to take the next steps together to help make sure (student’s name) gets the help he needs. Thank you for sending Jesus to die for us, and thank you for always sticking with us during difficult times like these. Please protect (student’s name) and help him see how valuable he is to you. In Jesus name we pray, amen.” 
    • Female student: “God, thank you so much for (student’s name). Thank you for creating (student’s name) and allowing me to be a part of her life. Thank you for giving (student’s name) the courage to talk to me about something so personal. Please help us to take the next steps together to help make sure (student’s name) gets the help she needs. Thank you for sending Jesus to die for us, and thank you for sticking with us during difficult times like these. Please protect (student’s name) and help her see how valuable she is to you. In Jesus name we pray, amen.”
  8.  After the conversation, inform your Coach or ministry leader promptly.

Questions to Ask

  • Do you feel depressed?
  • Do you ever feel like just giving up?
  • Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  • Are you thinking about suicide?
  • Have you ever thought about suicide before, or tried to harm yourself before?
  • When was the last time you had suicidal thoughts?
    • Lower Risk: “5 years ago”
    • Higher Risk: “Yesterday”
  • How often do you have these thoughts?
    • Lower Risk: “Maybe once a year”
    • Higher Risk: “Once or twice a month”
    • Have you thought about how or when you would do it?
      • Lowest Risk: “Not really, I’ve just kind of thought ‘what if I was dead,’ ya know?”
      • Lower Risk: “I would take pills.”
      • Moderate Risk: “I would cut my wrists.”
      • Higher Risk: “I would cut the artery on the side of my neck.” 
      • Highest Risk: “Yes, I have access to a gun that I would use.”
  • Do you have access to weapons or things that you would use to do it?
    • Lower Risk: "No."
    • Higher Risk: "Yes."