Suicide risk: Does talking about it matter?
By Catherine Fuchs, M.D.
Director, Psychological and Counseling Center
Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States but the second leading cause of death among U.S. teenagers and young adults, according to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. The risk of suicide is greater in the 18- to 24-year-old population among males and in many minority populations.
The public health implications of these statistics are significant, showing a serious need to identify ways to protect those at risk of suicide and prevent suicide overall. A key question that has been studied is whether asking someone about suicidal thoughts will increase their risk for suicide.
In 2014, a paper published in Psychological Medicinereviewed 13 studies that looked at whether asking about suicide increased suicidal ideation in adolescents, young adults and in general at-risk populations. None of the 13 studies reviewed found any statistically significant increase in suicidal ideation. In fact many of the studies found that asking the questions improved mental health in individuals who sought treatment.
Keep these three key points in mind when talking with someone about possible thoughts of suicide:
- Questions should always be paired with educational information about depression and treatment resources.
- The risk of suicide goes up significantly when an individual has untreated depression, complicated grief or untreated post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Listening to and creating an opportunity for someone to express feelings while also providing information that instills hope may be protective against suicide.