Many of our hotline callers phone us out of concern for a relative, friend, coworker, or client. Such callers are usually very anxious to help but don't know how. One of their biggest concerns is they will "make matters worse." Typically they envision that mentioning the word "suicide" to people who seem distressed will put the idea into their minds and endanger them. This is not the case.
The truth is that you can best help a friend if you speak openly about your concerns AND your caring. Describing in a gentle tone of voice what you've observed and stating that you are worried for the person's well-being is often a good place to start. Something like, "I'm worried about you. You don't seem to be the same lately, what's been going on?" Then it’s best to listen.
Next it's very important to acknowledge the emotional pain that you're hearing. You might say "It sounds like you're feeling so sad and alone right now." If you're concerned that suicide is a possibility you can then add "I'm wondering if you've been thinking about suicide." Then listen.
So often when people are considering suicide, they very much want to talk about it, but are afraid of being criticized. If you're able to be open-minded about whatever answer comes, you're likely to hear a sigh of relief — relief at being honest with someone about a subject that is often taboo, relief at being heard, relief at being accepted — suicidal thoughts and all.