When someone you know is even possibly suicidal, initiating a conversation can be intimidating but crucial. Here’s what QPR and years of research show are the 4 most effective questions to prevent suicide—What happened to you? Why now? With what in mind? Why not now? These questions at first seem scary but open up a dialogue and provide a pathway towards safety and understanding.
1. What happened to you?
Start the conversation by asking, “What happened to you?” Encourage them to share without judgment. If they hesitate, use prompts like “Please tell me more” or “Can you say more about that?” to keep the conversation flowing. This question helps you grasp the underlying issues and sets the stage for finding solutions to prevent suicide.
2. Why now?
Probe gently with, “Why now?” to understand the timing of their struggles. Whether recent events or longstanding issues, this question helps you identify the catalyst for their distress. It’s essential to recognize if something specific has intensified their emotions, guiding your response to provide the necessary support and prevent thoughts of suicide.
3. With what?
Address the specifics by asking, “With what?” This question explores whether they’ve thought about a method or means of suicide. In most cases they have not thoughtfully explored the method, but by bringing up this topic early on, you may prevent further planning and guide them towards professional help and intervention. Keep the conversation straightforward and focused on preventing suicide.
4. Why not now?
Shift the focus to reasons for living with, “Why not now?” This is the key and the one to really focus on. Encourage them to disclose protective factors—connections with others, meaningful relationships, or anything serving as a buffer against suicide. Identifying these reasons can help reinforce their resilience and provide a foundation for the reason to seek professional help to end their suicidal ideas.
Throughout the conversation reassure them that they are not weird for having suicidal thoughts. Everyone feels this way either regularly or at some point in their life. It simply means they are in a painful situation they don’t know how to get out of. They also need to know they can’t get rid of suicidal thoughts on their own. By using the “What happened to you? Why now? With what in mind? Why not now?” approach, you create an opportunity for connection and support in preventing suicide.