Beginning the Conversation on Mental Health


More often than not, the hardest conversations are the ones necessary to have. Some prefer the “out of sight, out of mind” approach and only address issues when they arise, so Water Professionals International decided to be the ones to open up the conversation and pave the way to an informed and involved future.

Some progress has been made in highlighting issues surrounding mental health, but it is still something that is brushed aside. There is a suicide crisis facing all communities and it can no longer be ignored. Unfortunately, there has been a negative stigma around mental health and suicide claiming that the more you talk about it, the more prevalent it becomes. Beginning the conversation is the first step towards being part of the solution.

So, how do you begin? WPI’s recent Innovation in Certification conference welcomed Kimberly Curnan, the 988 Manager at 211 Tampa Bay Cares. In 2017, she was certified as a National ASIST Trainer, she facilitates the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training for 211 staff and manages the new 988 Department at 211. Kimberly shared her expertise in a session covering tips for navigating suicide talks and thoughts of suicide.

Become comfortable with the word “suicide”. This doesn’t mean that you have to instantly become an advocate or start conversations out of nowhere, but if you are having depressive and suicidal thoughts being able to say the word is a step towards asking for help. On the other side of that, if a loved one is suffering from suicidal thoughts and you react to hearing “suicide” in a negative manner, they may not be comfortable talking to you (or anyone) in fear of being judged. Addressing suicidal thoughts directly creates a safe space and prepares you for uncomfortable conversations moving forward.

Create a safe space for an honest conversation. If you or someone you know needs to have a conversation about suicidal thoughts, do so in a private area. This relieves the fear of peers overhearing. As the conversation begins, listen intently. You cannot rush this conversation; if you do not have time to be patient and attentive, do not offer to open the conversation.

Do not judge or instill guilt. Opening up about mental health or suicidal thoughts is no easy task. If someone trusts you to talk about it, keep in mind that their reality is different from yours. A crisis can mean something different to every person and it’s important for them to feel valid. Avoid phrases like, “You can’t do that, your kids need you!” or “You’re not going to do something stupid, right?”. These phrases are isolating to the person asking for help. Instead, empathize with them and explain that their feelings are valid.

Thank them for opening up and normalize their feelings. It can be difficult to talk about feelings, especially when they are self-depreciating, so thank them for their honesty and trust in admitting it to you. After this, ask them to expand on their feelings. As they discuss the issues they face, express it’s normal to feel angry/embarrassed/etc. This will help them feel less alone.

Help them find hope. Through your conversation, they may start to feel connected. Ask if they have talked about this with anyone else. You can also try to encourage support; their insurance may offer counseling or they may have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) set up through work.

Focus on your feelings. Make sure to check in with yourself; are you feeling overwhelmed? Knowing your own limits is important, only help when you feel like you can, and if not, connect them with someone who can. If you do find yourself impacted by someone else’s suicide, check in with your personal support. Make time to decompress and do something you love.

If you are having thoughts about suicide or know someone who is and needs help, you can reach out to 988 to speak with a counselor. 



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