What to Do if Someone You Know is Expressing Thoughts of Suicide

  • If someone you know has an imminent threat of suicide, call 911. Imminent threat means they are expressing thoughts of self-harm, how they would do it, and they may have prepared the means to do it.
  • If the individual is threatening suicide, but does not have a lethal method in hand and appears to be safe to transport, take them to the nearest hospital Emergency Room. If you do not feel it is safe to transport them, call 911 for assistance.
  • Remove all guns, knives, other cutting implements, and pills from where the individual would have access to them.

Many people have thoughts of suicide at some time in their life. Often times these thoughts are just thoughts, not intentions, and can be viewed as a symptom that something is wrong. If you are not sure if they are just thoughts, or if you question whether the person is really planning suicide, ask. Someone who has an imminent threat of suicide will have a plan and a means to carry out the plan.

Asking about suicide will not cause someone to become suicidal, but it may give a suicidal person an opportunity to get help that will prevent the suicide. Do NOT worry about offending the person by asking about suicide. It is an expression of your caring.

Think of what to do if a colleague expresses suicidal thinking (either directly or indirectly) as a three-step process:

  1. Question -- open the dialogue by asking the question directly.
  2. Persuade -- offer emotional support and give hope that help can change how they feel.
  3. Refer -- give names of places to get help such as:
    • The nearest Emergency Department
    • Police at 911
    • Duke PAS at 919-416-1727
    • Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-Suicide.
    • You might help them call for an appointment with a mental health professional right now.

If the danger is serious, but not imminent, encourage the person to talk to a professional to deal with whatever issues are triggering the thoughts. Many individuals with suicidal ideation are clinically depressed, which is a very treatable disorder. Encourage or help the individual to call one of the following:

  • Duke PAS (if Duke employee or family member): 919-416-1727
  • Primary care physician
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255)
  • Pastor, rabbi, imam, or other spiritual leader