Officer Suicide Prevention: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

It is normal to feel sad, down or have a low mood once in a while. However, feeling that way most of the time — and having it persistently affect your daily life when it is not related to a loss or medical condition — may be an indication of severe depression.

Other signs and symptoms can be a constant sense of hopelessness, despair, loss of interest in normal activities, relationships, and/or thoughts of suicide.  

Expressing thoughts of suicide can actually be helpful; it’s a way for a distressed person to work through their thoughts and feelings. If a friend or coworker expresses thoughts of suicide to you, don’t panic. Instead, calmly ask thoughtful questions to demonstrate you care and want to understand more.

Yes, this may be uncomfortable. But it is important to keep the conversation going, as you try to differentiate between a thought of suicide, an intention to suicide, or an actual attempt to die by suicide.

A simple acronym (QPR) can be used as a guide when you’re concerned about another’s intention to die by suicide:  

Q: Question persons about thoughts of suicide

P: Persuade them to seek help

R: Refer them to professional services  

A person with severe depression or intention to die by suicide can sometimes hide their distress, isolate themselves, or act in hostile ways towards even friends and coworkers. However, on the inside that person may feel helpless, hopeless, worthless, and alone.

People in that person’s life (friends, colleagues, family members) who are concerned can form a suicide danger watch list. This includes items such as signs of depression, untreated or unmanaged alcohol problems, or significant relationships conflicts. Take extra notice if you hear statements or see actions from the person that suggest they are experiencing a loss of hope, feelings of worthlessness, or feelings of not belonging or of being a burden to others.  

The key is to ask questions about the person’s suicidal thoughts and/or actions. Set aside any fear you have that mentioning it will somehow introduce the idea to them. Quite the opposite: The act of asking questions and expressing concern may instead give them the hope they cannot give themselves. The conversation can be a lifesaving part of intervention, and when necessary, a bridge to professional help.

Suicide cannot always be prevented. Yet, when someone we know dies by suicide, we all wish we had done something different. Although we may not have been able to help someone in the past, we now know that it is helpful to talk about mental and emotional distress, drinking problems, suicide prevention, and how to get help.  

If we detect feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness in ourselves, we must not trust our own judgment to remain isolated, drink, or entertain ideas of suicide. Instead, we must share our concern with someone.

If we recognize these feelings in others, we can start the conversation or keep it going. All of us are capable of having an authentic talk with another person. And that conversation could be a lifesaver.

Urgent help resources include Safe Call Now (206-459-3020) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).


ArticlesTerry Casey