Does Talking about Suicide Plant the Idea in the Person’s Mind?

People learn about suicide at a very young age. They already know about it, so our asking about it does not give them the idea. Where you worry you may be planting a seed, a large tree has already grown.

In case you have doubts, consider a research study  conducted with adolescents. In this study, two groups of adolescents were given questionnaires about emotions, stress, and personal characteristics. One group had an additional set of questions asking about whether they were thinking of suicide or had attempted suicide. Two days later, the researchers administered questions about suicidal thoughts and attempts to both groups.

If indeed asking about suicidal thoughts planted the idea of suicide in the teenagers’ minds, we would expect the group that was asked the suicide-related questions to have higher rates of suicidal ideation than the group that was not asked. That did not happen. Both groups thought about suicide at the same rate.

Now Ask Yourself, “Does Talking about Suicide Plant the Idea?”

You can answer this question yourself with a couple questions:

Were you thinking about attempting suicide when you started reading this column?

If not, are you now thinking of attempting suicide?

Most likely, no one who was not thinking of attempting suicide when they started reading this column is planning to do so now. (If for any reason you are thinking of attempting suicide, please call 1-800-273-TALK for help!)

So please do keep in mind that asking about suicide does not give anybody the idea. They already got that idea long ago. Now the question is whether they reject the idea, or whether they are cultivating it as it grows ever more.

UPDATED May 5, 2014

© 2013 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW. All Rights Reserved. Written for Photo purchased from

Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, is the author of “Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals,” a psychotherapist and consultant, and an associate professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work.

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