Ep 18: Tackling Suicide: A Professional Perspective with Whitcomb Terpening.

Suicide carries such a stigma around it that people, including mental health professionals, feel afraid to bring it up, even when someone around them may be struggling with the issue in some way. As the number of suicides and suicide attempts continues to rise every year, it is increasingly important to break down these barriers and to engage in open conversations around the topic. Today’s guest, Whitcomb Terpening, a licensed social clinical worker, and suicide specialist, runs the only dedicated suicide practice in the US. In this episode, Whitcomb shares more about her journey and how it intersected with a professional passion for treating suicide. We talk about why it was important for her to establish a practice that was an alternative to in-patient hospitalization. Suicide is a spectrum and as such, there needs to be a variety of treatment options available. We also discuss how to spot suicidal thoughts in people, particularly amid this coronavirus crisis. Many of the usual signs are more difficult to notice, so it’s necessary to be alert to certain behavior. Along with this, Whitcomb also illustrates the importance of just asking someone if they’re struggling with suicidal thoughts. People often believe that by mentioning it, they will put an idea in someone’s head, but this could not be further from the truth. Giving someone a safe place to talk is an incredibly comforting experience. We also talk about how the community at large can play its part in preventing suicide, the importance of reaching out, and some training resources that non-professionals can undergo to deal with the issue. Suicide affects us all in one way or another, and it’s our collective responsibility to do a better job of showing up for people who are often not seen. Be sure to tune in today!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Learn more about Whitcomb’s background, The Semicolon Group, and the practice.
  • There is a false idea that all mental health professionals have suicide training.
  • Find out about the personal experience that led Whitcomb to work in suicide.
  • Some of the statistics around suicide in the US that Whitcomb has written about.
  • Coronavirus crisis specific suicidal related signs to look out for and ways to reach out.
  • How to approach someone you feel may be suicidal and what to do next.
  • When the right time would be to call for additional professional help.
  • How to help people dealing with suicide-related grief during this time and resources to use.
  • Training people can do to equip themselves with skills around dealing with suicide issues.
  • The role of the community outside of mental health professionals in suicide prevention.
  • Connect, breathe, check in: Whitcomb’s advice for this time of crisis.
  • Words of hope for those who may be struggling with suicide in any way.


“This whole thought of suicide sat heavy on me. I didn’t understand it. It didn’t make sense to me. My experience with losing my friend and several others after that just didn’t fit into the boxes of what I thought suicide affected.” — Whitcomb Terpening [0:07:24]

“It’s a bigger issue than people look at or notice or want to see.” — Whitcomb Terpening [0:12:39]

“I think the thing that most people, professionals and Americans, don’t realize is the suicide, like many things, is on a spectrum.” — Whitcomb Terpening [0:35:14]

“With suicide, because it is so internalized in our culture, and it is so stigmatized in our culture that when it has a space to talk about it and to be heard, it loses its power.” — Whitcomb Terpening [0:37:47]

“When people feel heard and able to talk about their stuff, the power of suicide goes away. Maybe not permanently. Maybe not completely. But it helps it dissipate enough to help people move on with their lives.” — Whitcomb Terpening [0:41:20]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Whitcomb Terpening on LinkedIn

The Semicolon Group

We tell suicidal people to go to therapy. So why are therapists rarely trained in suicide?

How to find a therapist if you’re suicidal

Our Silence is Killing Us

QPR Institute

Texas Suicide Prevention

Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training

CALM: Counseling on Access to Lethal Means

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Crisis Text Line


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