September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and Ellipsis wants everyone to know it is important to talk about what to do if someone you know is having suicidal thoughts. We know that suicidal ideation is a problem Iowa’s youth are experiencing.

According to Iowa Youth Survey data, as many as 24% of Iowa’s high school juniors have experienced suicidal ideation, or thoughts of suicide, in 2021. Just over 20% of eighth graders and 17% of sixth graders reported having thoughts of suicide in 2021. Most unfortunately, 5% of those in eighth and 11th grades have attempted to die by suicide.

For individuals contemplating suicide or those who just need someone to talk to, never hesitate to call or text 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, any time of the day or night. You can also chat online with a trained professional in English or Spanish.

We want our youth to know they are loved, valued and can confide in someone if they are thinking of suicide. But sometimes it’s hard to know how to ask for help. It’s just as crucial for parents, guardians, mentors and peers to hold conversations with a child or teen who they suspect may be having suicidal thoughts. Knowing what to do next can save a life.

Here are some examples on how to start a conversation about suicidal thoughts and how to listen and respond.

If you’re having thoughts of suicide:

How to ask for help

If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself or ending your life, it’s possible that you don’t recognize them as suicidal thoughts. Maybe you’re telling yourself you aren’t seriously contemplating suicide, or you say you’ll get help tomorrow.

You can start by telling a friend or loved one, “I’m having thoughts of suicide and harming myself. I’m not sure what to do, but I don’t want to be alone right now.”

How to respond

It’s important not to overreact and overburden someone who is struggling with your emotions, potentially making them regret confiding in you. Conversely, you don’t want to write off their concerns.

You can respond with, “Thanks for telling me. I care about you, and I’m here for you. Let’s talk about some things we can do together right now and in a few weeks that can help. Maybe we can start with calling 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, together?”

If you’re not sure what you need:

How to ask for help

When their mental health is suffering, individuals may write themselves off as a burden, say they’ll seek help tomorrow, isolate or compare their mental health to others.

You can start by telling a friend or loved one, “I’m having thoughts (of hurting myself, about how hopeless life is or about how I don’t know how to move forward). I don’t know if this is normal or what to do next.”

How to respond

You can respond with, “I appreciate you telling me. You really matter to me, and we can figure it out together. Could we reach out to a local therapist, a care coordinator through Iowa’s MHDS Regions, a school counselor or another resource? You can decide what you want to do next, but we can come up with options together.”

If you don’t know who to turn to:

How to ask for help

If you don’t have a close friend or loved one you trust to confide in about your thoughts of suicide, start a conversation with, “I know we don’t talk much or I’m not sure I feel comfortable sharing this yet, but I’m struggling and feel I can trust you. Are you free to talk today or tomorrow?”

How to respond

You can respond with, “It’s great to hear from you, and thank you for trusting me with this. I won’t share what we talk without your approval. I’m happy to talk to you. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to call or text 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.”

If your current mental health plan isn’t working:

How to ask for help

Working to improve mental health can be a long process with successes and — sometimes — setbacks. Don’t lose hope because more options are always available to you.

Start by saying, “I’ve been seeing a therapist or counselor or taking my prescribed medications, but I don’t feel like my needs are being met. What do you think I could do next?”

How to respond

You can respond with, “Let’s work to find a mental health provider who you think understands you better. They may have some good ideas on new therapy options or how to adjust or change prescribed medication if they decide that would help.”

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact 988 immediately. If a child or teen in your life needs help improving their mental health, Ellipsis has all the supports that can help you and your family get back on track. Contact us at