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Every 11 Minutes, Someone Dies by Suicide: A Look at the Staggering Suicide Statistics, Facts, and Figures From 2020

You Are Not Alone

Break the Stigma. Break the Silence.

You Are Not Alone–

If You’ve Lost A Child to Suicide

Bright red and orange leaves in the fall fill the screen. The colorful leaves are still on a few scattered thin tree branches, and the photograph is a beautiful close-up of spectacular fall foilage.
“I Want to Believe: Remembering and Healing After the Loss of My Son to Suicide,” My Forever Son

Staggering Statistics about Suicide in the United States

Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States in 2018. Suicide was responsible for more than 48,000 deaths in 2018, resulting in about one death every 11 minutes.

  • On average, 132 Americans died by suicide each day.
  • 1.4 million Americans attempted suicide.
  • 90% of those who died by suicide had a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death.

These are staggering statistics. Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. And these statistics are from 2018. Much has happened since: A global pandemic, especially, forcing isolation in a world where life is lived connected. Mental illness rates have increased as have suicide statistics, but the Center for Disease Control collects data in retrospect, culling numbers from the previous year. We will not know the fallout from 2020 until at least next year.

Additional facts about suicide in the United States

  • The age-adjusted suicide rate in 2018 was 14.2 per 100,000 individuals.
  • The rate of suicide is highest in middle-aged white men.
  • In 2018, men died by suicide 3.56x more often than women.
  • On average, there are 132 suicides per day.
  • White males accounted for 69.67% of suicide deaths in 2018.
  • In 2018, firearms accounted for 50.57% of all suicide deaths.
artistic rendering of a shattered red heart, cracked open in half with the appearance of 3D. The heart fills the image, with a brown and gold background suggesting earth and a striking sense of forlorn, barren, and broken emptiness upon which the heart rests. The cracks in the heart are black and the red in the heart is muted to reflect being shattered. beautiful artist's painting. the caption says: "Suicide Breaks Hearts, My Forever Son" and contains a hyperlink to a poem about losing a child a suicide, "If Earth Were Sky (and sky above)
Suicide Breaks Hearts, My Forever Son
  • Over 950,000 years of potential life were lost to suicide before age 65.
  • Firearms accounted for slightly more than half (50.54%) of all suicide deaths.
  • Suicide deaths and attempts cost $69 billion in combined work-loss and medical cost in 2015.
  • 10.3% of Americans have thought about suicide
  • 54% of Americans have been affected by suicide
  • Men died by suicide 3.6x more often than women. Women were 1.4x more likely to attempt suicide.
  • 48,344 Americans died by suicide.
  • Second (2nd) leading cause of death for ages 10-34
  • Fourth (4th) leading cause of death for ages 35-54
  • In 2017, the suicide rate was 1.5x higher for Veterans than for non-Veteran adults over the age of 18.

Read more at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. All facts and statistics information provided by the CDC, 2018 Fatal Injury Reports (accessed from on 3/1/20). Find additional citation information at

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “suicide rates have increased by 30% since 1999. Nearly 45,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2016 alone. Comments or thoughts about suicide — also known as suicidal ideation — can begin small like, “I wish I wasn’t here” or “Nothing matters.” But over time, they can become more explicit and dangerous.”

NAMI, National Alliance for Mental Illness

Read more about how I’ve coped, grieved, and found my way back to life after losing my son to suicide at My Forever Son

Photograph of a dragonfly stoneware mug with hot tea, plus a writer's journal with a raised bronze colored dragonfly against a swirled amber sketched background.stack of books about suicide resting on the top right corner of the dragonfly journal. base of a brass desk lamp and a spider plant in the far left corner, plus an aloe plant behind the spider plant. mug, light, books, journal, and plant sit on a wood writer's desk. Dragonfly mug is resting on a yellow glass stained coaster.

My Forever Son: Chronicling Grief, Hope, and Healing

more than 47,000 deaths in 2017, resulting in about one death every 11 minutes. Every year, many more people think about or attempt suicide than die by suicide. In 2017, 10.6 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million made a plan, and 1.4 million attempted suicide.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

Need Help? Know Someone Who Does?

Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use the online Lifeline Crisis Chat
Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Hold onto Hope

Hold Onto Hope, How to Survive the Death of a Child By Suicide: Support, Resources, and Hope, My Forever Son

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Suicide Changes Everything-Struggling to Survive Grief After the Suicide of My Son

Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy -Kay Redfield Jamison My Forever Son-My Beloved Dylan Suicide Shocks and Shatters Suicide changes everything. Immediately. Suddenly. Completely. Shattering everything. All is outside the natural order of the circle of life. And when a young person dies by suicide? When a young man […]

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“Bury My Heart”-A Poem about Losing a Child

“Bury My Heart” (for Dylan) Bury my heart I’ve come undone Sorting through this life My son left behind. And what I’m seeking I know I’ll never find His touch, his smile— His still living his life. And so instead I sift through A still life dream My heart and life with him Forever it…

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The Pain of Suicide: It’s Not About Wanting to Die, It’s About Wanting the Pain to Stop

The Pain of Suicide Know you can survive; you may not think so, but you can. Iris M. Bolton, “Beyond Surviving: Suggestions for Survivors” 10 Commonalities of Suicide Below are 10 commonalities of suicide, identified by suicide expert, Edwin Shneidman, author of The Suicidal Mind. 10 Commonalities of Suicide The common purpose of suicide is…

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Books and Resources Coping with Loss Coping with suicide Family loss Grief Parents Who Have Lost a Child to Suicide Suicide loss Support Groups survivors of suicide loss

How to Survive the Death of a Child By Suicide-Support, Resources, and Hope

Where to Find Support, Resources, and Hope-Losing a Child to Suicide

It takes as long as it takes. Be gentle with yourself. And in the wake of catastrophic loss, remember to breathe.

Beth Brown, My Forever Son
Rhapsody in Blue, Delphinium, My Forever Son

It takes as long as it takes. Be gentle with yourself. And in the wake of catastrophic loss, remember to breathe.

Beth Brown, My Forever Son

Surviving Your Child’s Suicide

The following resources, book lists, narratives from parents who have lost a child to suicide, support groups, and more are meant to be a resource bank. Many have helped me keep on keeping on these past nine years of grieving.

That’s when my world changed. That’s when hope for me became something I used to have. That’s when I lost my 20-year-old son, Dylan, to suicide.

Know you can survive; you may not think so, but you can.

Iris M. Bolton, “Beyond Surviving: Suggestions for Survivors”

“Beyond Surviving: Suggestions for Survivors”

by Iris M. Bolton

1. Know you can survive; you may not think so, but you can.

2. Struggle with “why” it happened until you no longer need to know “why” or until YOU are satisfied with partial answers.

3. Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings but that all your feelings are normal.

4. Anger, guilt, confusion, forgetfulness are common responses. You are not crazy, you are in mourning.

5. Be aware you may feel appropriate anger at the person, at the world, at God, at yourself. It’s okay to express it.

6. You may feel guilty for what you think you did or did not do. Guilt can turn into regret, through forgiveness.

7. Having suicidal thoughts is common. It does not mean that you will act on those thoughts.

8. Remember to take one moment or one day at a time.

9. Find a good listener with whom to share. Call someone if you need to talk.

10. Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are healing.

11. Give yourself time to heal.

12. Remember, the choice was not yours. No one is the sole influence on another’s life.

13. Expect setbacks. If emotions return like a tidal wave, you may only be experiencing a remnant of grief, an unfinished piece.

14. Try to put off major decisions.

15. Give yourself permission to get professional help.

16. Be aware of the pain in your family and friends.

17. Be patient with yourself and others who may not understand.

18. Set your own limits and learn to say no.

19. Steer clear of people who want to tell you what or how to feel.

20.Know that there are support groups that can be helpful, such as Compassionate Friends or Survivors of Suicide groups.

Iris Bolton, Suicide and its Aftermath (Dunne, McIntosh, Dunne-Maxim, Norton et al., 1987). American Association for Suicidology

Suicide Grief Websites and Support Groups

“After a Suicide” is a portal linking people who are grieving after a death by suicide to an online directory of resources and information to help them cope with their loss.  

Perhaps the figure is reeling from a loss so catastrophic that all one can do is scream to sky, to stars, to sun–to wherever forever is, to where forever is out of reach forever again.

Beth Brown, My Forever Son, From Sorrow to Joy: How Pain Colors Loss

The suicide of a child of any age presents unique circumstances that can intensify and prolong the mourning process for parents, family members and friends. Suicide is believed to be a reaction to overwhelming feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness and depression. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the United States among 10-14 year olds and 15-24 year olds, and the second leading cause among 25-34 year olds.

2017 The Compassionate Friends, USA

Wear out your questions, anger, guilt, or other feelings until you can let them go. Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.

Know that you will never be the same again, but you can survive and even go beyond just surviving.

Iris Bolton, Suicide and its Aftermath, (Dunne, McIntosh, Dunne-Maxim, Norton et al., 1987). American Association for Suicidology

In-Person Support Group Directories:

Hydrangea in Pastel Pink, My Forever Son

“Thoughts from a Long-Term Survivor of Suicide Loss”

By Desiree Woodland

Jul. 26, 2019 – Thirteen years ago, my son took his life. At the time, I could not imagine living one more day or hour without him, much less these many years. His absence was a heavy weight. I could barely breathe. The overwhelming pain, and the intense longing I felt for him, seemed unendurable.

With the passage of time and the facing of grief, I have adjusted to living my life without my son. Will I always wish it could have been different?  Of course. Ryan’s death was out of order: my child dying before me.

In many ways it feels like a dream that my child was ever here. The passage of time poses its own challenges. Cultivating hope over the long haul has required both tenacity and forgiveness. I have learned – and continue to learn – to forgive reality for what it is. Since losing my son, many changes have taken place in my heart. The loss changed my life’s trajectory. I am not the same person I was before Ryan died. There is a distinct before and after.

How have I changed?

My son accompanies me on this road that is paved with both sorrow and joy. Not his physical presence, but a deeper knowledge that he is still with me. He guides me as I walk, often stumbling, as I move forward to make life better for others as an offering to him.

I have become an advocate for youth mental illness awareness and suicide prevention. As a teacher and as a parent, I was not educated about mental illness and was in denial when it came to my own son. I now know that most people who die by suicide had a mental health disorder- whether unrecognized, undiagnosed, undertreated or untreated. Half of all serious mental illness begins by age 14, and yet often treatment doesn’t begin until ten years later.

Many survivors find that volunteering to support others facilitates their own healing, too. I am a facilitator for the Survivors of Suicide support group in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This has been part of my healing journey.  I value the fragility of life and the sacredness of every story I hear, from others who have lost loved ones to suicide. I value the privilege of being a companion to other hurting parents along the road of loss.

I have also become involved with a local program called Breaking the Silence NM. The program offers school presentations across the state, designed to help young people be in touch with their own mental health, and identify when what they’re going through might go beyond typical adolescence. We want them to know that treatment works, and that there is no shame in either counseling or medication. Additionally, we focus on the strengths associated with talking with a trusted adult about their struggles without shame or embarrassment; the importance of getting support from their friends; and exercise, eating right, and avoiding alcohol and smoking.

My involvement in these things has helped me in my own continuing journey as a long-term survivor of suicide loss.

In 2016, in Chicago, I attended the first AFSP long- term survivors of suicide loss conference, called “Our Journey Continues.”  The acknowledgement I felt at referring to myself as a long- term survivor was a refreshing relief. Grief is still grief, but society, and even we survivors, haven’t always known how to refer to ourselves. Long- term loss needs to be acknowledged in the suicide survivor community. We still need to be gentle with ourselves and take time to remember. As the author Rachel Naomi Remen says, we need to recognize the value of “revisiting our wounds to see what might have grown there.”

I sense that Ryan has left me with many gifts. I believe I am a better human being. I am less impatient. (Though not always!) I am less judgmental, and view life less through a black and white lens, but rather in shades of gray. I realize now that there is so much I don’t understand about our human lives, but I sense the mystery in them. Since Ryan’s loss, I have cultivated deeper friendships with others. I see the wisdom in my wound that offers a place of refuge and meaning not only for myself, but for others. I see more of the deep down of things, and have the sense that God is not hurried along in time. This understanding has allowed me to give myself permission to slow down and be more mindful in my life.

Coping with long-term loss is different than the more immediate loss of early grief. And somehow, we learn to find and use tools like journaling and writing poetry that lets in a little more light. We learn to be okay with the grief process, and maybe even to accept that process. We educate ourselves about suicide, and some of us find a way to heal our grief through suicide prevention advocacy, as well as the community found within AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walks, and International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.

This poem expresses the longing I feel for my son, even as my life moves forward.

Don’t fade from my mind like words written on a letter long ago.

The memory of you was vivid and shot through with color.

The brightness of your smile, the warmth in your hazel eyes, the joy of your laugh.

With the passage of time I am unable to imagine how you would look now.

I see you through the sepia tones of time.

Stay sharp, stay poignant.

Don’t leave me again.

Desiree Woodland, “Thoughts from a Long-term Survivor of Suicide Loss,” AFSP

Phlox in Pink and White, My Forever Son

Coping with Impossible Grief: Losing a Child to Suicide

Nationally, suicide has emerged as the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-19 years old.

*Nearly 1 in 6 teens has seriously contemplated suicide in the past year.

*Suicide affects people of all backgrounds. 

*Early identification of risk factors can aid behavioral health specialists in prevention strategies for youth at risk of suicide.

*Suicide is complex and tragic yet often preventable if communities are provided with the right tools.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Center for Suicide and Research

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.”

Washington Irving

Books About Healing After Suicide Loss

After Suicide. Hewett, J. (1980). Westminster Press.

After Suicide Loss: Coping with Your Grief. Baugher, R., & Jordan, J. R. (2002). Self-published (contact

Finding Peace Without All the Pieces: After A Loved One’s Suicide. Archibald, L. (2012). Larch Publishing.

Healing the Hurt Spirit: Daily Affirmations for People Who Have Lost a Loved One to Suicide. Greenleaf, C. (2006). St. Dymphna Press.

Life After Suicide: A Ray of Hope for Those Left Behind. Ross, E. B. (1997). Insight Books. Mourning After Suicide. Bloom, L. A. (1986). Pilgrim Press.

My Son, My Son: A Guide to Healing After a Suicide in the Family. Bolton, I. with Mitchell, C. (1984). Bolton Press.

No Time to Say Goodbye. Fine, C. (1999). Main Street Books.

Touched by Suicide: Hope and Healing After Suicide. Myers, M. F. & Fine, C. (2006). Gotham.

Books to Help Understand Suicide Loss: Principles, Theory, Guidance

Devastating Losses: How Parents Cope With the Death of a Child to Suicide or Drugs. Feigelman, W., Jordan, J. R., McIntosh, J. L., & Feigelman, B. (2011). Springer.

Grief After Suicide: Understanding the Consequences and Caring for the Survivors. Jordan, J. R., & McIntosh, J. L. (2010). Routledge.

The Impact of Suicide. Mishara, B. L. (1995). Springer.

Left Alive: After a Suicide Death in the Family. Rosenfeld, L., & Prupas, M. (1984). Charles C. Thomas.

Living with Grief after Sudden Loss. Doka, K. (1996). Taylor & Francis.

Retelling Violent Death. Rynearson E. K. (2001). Brunner/Routledge.

Rocky Roads: The Journeys of Families through Suicide Grief. Linn-Gust, M. (2010). Chellehead Works.

Silent Grief: Living in the Wake of Suicide (revised edition). Lucas, C., & Seiden, H. M. (2007). Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Suicide and Its Aftermath: Understanding and Counseling the Survivors. Dunne, E. J., McIntosh, J. L., & Dunne-Maxim, K. (1987). Norton.

Survivors of Suicide. Cain, A. C. (1972). Charles C. Thomas.

Why Suicide?: Questions and Answers About Suicide, Suicide Prevention, and Coping with the Suicide of Someone You Know (revised edition). Marcus, E. (2010). HarperOne.

A Winding Road: A Handbook for Those Supporting the Suicide Bereaved. Linn-Gust, M., & Peters, J. (2010). Chellehead Works.

Books about Personal Accounts: Lived Experiences with Suicide Grief

Artful Grief: A Diary of Healing. Strouse, S. (2013). Balboa Press.

Before Their Time: Adult Children’s’ Experiences of Parental Suicide. Stimming, Mary, & Stimming, Maureen. (1999). Temple University Press.

Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival. Lukas, C. (2008). Doubleday.

Do They Have Bad Days in Heaven? Surviving the Suicide Loss of a Sibling. Linn-Gust, M. (2001). Bolton Press.

His Bright Light: The Story of Nick Traina. Steel, D. (1998). Delacorte Press.

In Her Wake: A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother’s Suicide. Rappaport, N. (2009). Basic Books.

Real Men Do Cry. Hipple, E. (2008). Quality of Life Publishing Co.

Seeking Hope: Stories of the Suicide Bereaved. Linn-Gust, M., & Cerel, J. (2011). Chellehead Works.

Stronger Than Death: When Suicide Touches Your Life. Chance, S. (1992). Norton.

The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order. Wickersham, J. (2008). Mariner Books.

Words I Never Thought to Speak: Stories of Life in the Wake of Suicide. Alexander, V. (1991). Lexington Books.

Books to Help Children and Their Caregivers

After a Parent’s Suicide: Helping Children Heal. Requarth, M. (2008). Healing Hearts Press.

After a Suicide Death: An Activity Book for Grieving Kids. (2001). The Dougy Center.

But I Didn’t Say Goodbye: Helping Children and Families after a Suicide. Rubel, B. (2000). Griefwork Center.

Red Chocolate Elephants: For Children Bereaved by Suicide (includes DVD). Sands, D. (2010). Karridale Pty Ltd.

Someone I Love Died by Suicide: A Story for Child Survivors and Those Who Care for Them. Cammarata, D.T. (2009). Limitless Press.

from After a Suicide Resource Directory

Suicide Data and Statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

SuicideData: United States State Fact Sheets

About International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day

Each year, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention supports hundreds of large and small events around the world, in which survivors of suicide loss come together to find connection, understanding, and hope through their shared experience. Learn more

Where to Go for Online Support After Suicide Loss

Parents, Friends, or Family Members
Parents of Suicides 
Friends and Families of Suicides 

These two online groups offer support, hope, and healing for parents, friends, and families of those bereaved by the suicide of a child.

They are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Both online support groups for parents of suicides and families and friends of suicide are free.

These support groups for survivors consist of other bereaved parents (parents of suicides), and family and friends (Families and Friends of Suicide).



Perhaps the figure is reeling from a loss so catastrophic that all one can do is scream to sky, to stars, to sun–to wherever forever is, to where forever is out of reach forever again.

Beth Brown, My Forever Son, From Sorrow to Joy: How Pain Colors Loss
Books and Resources Grief Suicide loss Support Groups

5 Things Not to Say about a Suicide Loss

Photo by Free Creative Stuff on

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.

Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors.

It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

– David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

The article below, which at first glance appears flippant and askance, is compelling, forthright, and written by two women who know–they have both lost loved ones to suicide. Their disclaimer appeared originally at the bottom of the article, but I’ve included it at the beginning as it lends insight into the the offhanded nature of the piece. Well-written and with genuine insight into all the messiness of what to say after someone dies by suicide, “How Not to be an Asshole about Suicide” is a worthy read. For more from these writers, find them at The Dinner Party

We wrote this as two women who’ve encountered mental illness, addiction and suicide loss within our immediate families and friend circles. We do not approach this subject lightly, and by no means do we intend to sugarcoat it. That suicide wreaks havoc on families is something we are profoundly aware of. Our goal is simply to add to what many have been working to do for years: To make the conversation more approachable and more empathetic, and to help people avoid foot-in-mouth syndrome.”  Jennifer White and Lennon Flowers, Authors, “How Not to be an Asshole about Suicide.”

“How Not to be an Asshole about Suicide”

“Blame it on one too many viewings of Pollyanna as children, but on the whole, we think humans are wired to not be assholes. After all, we’re social animals, who’ve evolved to care for one another. Our brains have a built-in “social caregiving system,” which leads to what’s known as a tend-and-befriend response to stress and suffering. Translation: We’re biologically inclined to want to be helpful.
We see grief and loss inspire remarkable acts of empathy and generosity each and every day. We’ve found that most people want to say and do the right thing by one another.
But every good rule has its exception: When it comes to suicide, most people are assholes.
As with most examples of blatant assholeishness, the problem is mostly one of ignorance. Suicide has long been a subject of taboo. Efforts to break the silence around suicide are new, and we’re only just learning to talk about it. Even today, families will sometimes go to great lengths to hide the cause of death.
For the two of us, and for hundreds of others across our respective communities, this is personal. So for your sake and ours, here are a few suggestions on how to be less of an asshole:
1. Stop saying “committed suicide.” 

Simply put, it’s out of date. People commit crimes: Using that word subtly implies fault and perpetuates the stigma around suicide. Eighty-five percent of those who die by suicide have struggled with mental illness or addiction. For most people, suicide is the final act after a long illness. 

Try instead: Use language like “died by suicide” or “took their own life”. Changing a few simple words displays empathy towards the person who died and acknowledges their often long and terrible fight against diseases like mental illness and addiction.
2. Enough with the questions. 

Before you start peppering a friend (let alone a stranger or co-worker or ____) with questions about the circumstances of the death, consider why you’re asking the question. If the answer is merely to satiate your own curiosity, don’t ask it. 
The decision to talk openly about loss is one we applaud, but it is a choice. It doesn’t mean that anyone ever has the right to know about it, or the circumstances that surrounded it. 

Questions like how a person did it, or why they did it, or whether they had attempted before are invasive, and serve nothing. When someone dies of cancer, does it matter which internal organ shut down first? When someone dies of lung cancer, does it matter if they smoked? (No and no.) We’ll never know the answer to the ultimate “why”, whether or not that person had a history of mental illness or addiction. That unanswered question, and the infinite supply of “what ifs” that accompany it, is one we’ll have to live with for the rest of our lives. In the end, knowing the answer wouldn’t make the loss any easier to bear. 
3. Was it expected? 

This is a simple one. Nope.
It doesn’t matter how many times they’ve attempted, or how sick they’ve been. Unless the suicide is medically assisted, it is unexpected. So skip the question. Ask if you can bring over a bottle of wine once the funeral crowds have disappeared. Ask if you can walk the dog or do the laundry. Ask a thoughtful question about who that person was. 

A good rule of thumb: Resist questions about the death itself, and focus more on the lives in question. Focus on how your friend is doing, and what they need. Focus less on how the person died or when and more on the life they led.  
4. “I’d kill myself, shoot myself, slit my wrists, yada yada yada.”
We hear these phrases all the time, and once upon a time, we said them, too. Most of the time, it doesn’t bother us anymore. But remember: A throwaway line like, “I’d kill myself if I were caught singing in the shower,” is a pretty great way to taint a perfectly enjoyable conversation. Our brains can’t help but go there. Be aware that you might be in the presence of someone whose loved one really did kill themselves or whose loved one is contemplating suicide. Joking about suicide could make it harder for them to reach out to you in a moment of crisis.
5. Suicide is selfish.
This one’s tricky. On the days when we’re desperate for a conversation we cannot have, we can’t help but feel it was selfish. 

But then we remind ourselves that the people we’ve lost to suicide, and many of those who struggled with depression or suicidal thoughts, are among the most sensitive and compassionate people we’ve known. It’s often easier to offer help than it is to ask for it, and those contemplating suicide are often wracked by guilt, or feel the world would be better off without them. Suicide is a response to pain, not indifference.   

Most of the terrible things we say are the result of ignorance, not intent. So the next time you encounter someone who’s struggling with suicidal thoughts, or talk with someone who’s navigating a suicide loss, try asking that person what would be helpful for them. Don’t assume you know. 

You’re not an asshole. Try not to act like one.”

Post Edit: Thanks to everyone who’s written in, and shared their experiences. We wrote this as two women who’ve encountered mental illness, addiction and suicide loss within our immediate families and friend circles. We do not approach this subject lightly, and by no means do we intend to sugarcoat it. That suicide wreaks havoc on families is something we are profoundly aware of. Our goal is simply to add to what many have been working to do for years: To make the conversation more approachable and more empathetic, and to help people avoid foot-in-mouth syndrome. 

About the authors: 

Jennifer White is a social entrepreneur, artist and advocate for hope. She founded Hope After Project after her losing her mother to suicide in 2011. She writes about her experience with loss and her dedication to finding hope in the darkest places for herself and others. Jennifer is a member of the Creative Activist community at Creative Visions Foundation.

Lennon Flowers is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Dinner Party, a community of mostly 20- and 30-somethings working to pioneer tools and community through which young people who’ve experienced significant loss can use their shared experience as a springboard toward living better, bolder, and more connected lives.