I know, from 25 years of working in suicide research and prevention, that this is a widely held myth, still today. So let’s be crystal clear: asking someone whether they have thoughts of suicide does not plant the idea into their head. Rather, it could be the start of a life-saving conversation that gets them the help or support that they need.
Of course, asking the question is scary, and our biggest fear is that the answer comes back as yes. In my experience, as long as we ask the question sensitively and respond with compassion, we will not do any harm. Indeed, often the person feels an incredible sense of relief that someone has noticed that they are struggling.
Something I believe firmly is something I said both in the film and in my book: that suicide is preventable right up until the final moment. This is such an important message, because the reality is that suicide is never inevitable, and although it can be so difficult to see a time when their mental pain will end when someone is in the depths of despair, it can and will end.
My heart breaks, however, for the 800,000 people across the globe each year whose pain becomes so overwhelming that suicide is their permanent means of ending their pain. If you are struggling, please try to hold on to life, as thoughts of suicide come in waves of intensity, which means that they do dissipate, becoming more manageable with time. Also, there is support out there, so please reach out. In When It Is Darkest, drawing upon people’s real-life stories as well as the latest research evidence, I try to convey the waxing and waning nature of suicidal thoughts and the pathways to suicide.
If you are concerned about a friend’s or a family member’s wellbeing, I’d really encourage you to ask someone directly about suicide. This is especially important if they are talking about feeling trapped, defeated or a burden to others – as these are warning signs for suicide.