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Talking to a Loved One With Suicidal Thoughts

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University of Denver professor of social work Stacey Freedenthal joins RadioEd to discuss how we can help those we love when they're struggling the most.

Podcast  • News  •

If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, call or text 988.

An outstretched hand reaches into the palm of a woman who sits on the ground in distress.

RadioEd is a biweekly podcast created by the DU Newsroom that taps into the University of Denver’s deep pool of bright brains to explore new takes on today’s top stories. See below for a transcript of this episode.

Show Notes

This episode of RadioEd is about suicide and how people can help those they love who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts. 

We know it’s a heavy topic. In many cultures, suicide is taboo—and in some countries it’s illegal. People don’t like to talk about it. 

But, as University of Denver associate professor of social work Stacey Freedenthal says, asking a friend or family member if they’re experiencing suicidal thoughts is really, really important.  

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among adults in the United States, with nearly 50,000 dying by suicide in 2021. In that same year, 12.3 million adults seriously thought about suicide.  

Stacey Freedenthal speaks animatedly in a classroom.
Stacey Freedenthal.

And it’s not just adults. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 15 and 24 and the eighth leading cause of death among children aged 5 to 11.  

So why should we ask our at-risk loved ones about potential thoughts of suicide? Freedenthal says she's often heard a slogan: “Prevent suicide with your ears.” And while it’s not quite as simple as that, Freedenthal says listening to those we love is a good first step in stopping someone from taking their own life. 

In this episode, Freedenthal draws on her personal and professional experiences to share how best to support the people we love when they may be experiencing suicidal thoughts.  

Stacey Freedenthal is an associate professor of social work at the University of Denver. A licensed clinical social worker, Freedenthal has a small psychotherapy and consulting practice in Denver. She also provides training and consultation to social workers and other professionals who treat clients at risk for suicide. 

Freedenthal has worked in the field of suicide prevention since 1994, when she volunteered at a suicide hotline. Subsequently, she earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Texas at Austin. She held clinical positions in psychiatric emergency settings before returning to school to earn a PhD in social work from Washington University in St. Louis. Before she became a social worker, she worked as a journalist for The Dallas Morning News. 

She coordinates the mental health concentration at the Graduate School of Social Work. The courses that she teaches include Suicide Assessment and Interventions, Assessment of Mental Health in Adults, Clinical Social Work Theory and Practice, and Social Justice Challenges in Mental Health Practice. 

More Information:

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline 

A Suicide Therapist’s Secret Pastby Stacey Freedenthal for the New York Times 

CDC Suicide Data and Statistics 

AACAP Suicide in Children and Teens 

Loving Someone with Suicidal Thoughts: What Family, Friends, and Partners Can Say and Do by Stacey Freedenthal  

Stacey Freedenthal website 

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