Talking about suicide


 Content Editor

​Many people assume that if you ask someone if they have suicidal thoughts, that you can put the idea into their head. This is a myth.
 
Talking about suicide can be a scary subject. However, the more people are willing to talk with a friend or family member about suicidal thoughts, the more likely they can help someone take positive steps.
 
On this page, we provide some advice around how to have the conversation with someone who you feel may be at risk of suicide. 
 
What you can do
You may have a niggling feeling that someone you know or care about it isn't behaving as they normally would - they may seem out of sorts, more agitated or withdrawn than normal or just not themselves. Trust that gut instinct and act on it.
 
By starting a conversation and commenting on the changes you've noticed, you could help that family member, friend or workmate open up. If they say they are not ok, you can follow the conversation steps below to show them they're supported and help them find strategies to better manage the load. If they are ok, that person will know you're someone who cares enough to ask.

Talking about someone's problems is not always easy and it may be tempting to try to provide a solution. However, often the most important thing you can do to help is listen to what they have to say.
 
Preparing to ask
Before you can look out for others, you need to look out for yourself. And that's ok. If you're not in the right headspace or you don't think you're the right person to have the conversation, try to think of someone else in their support network who could talk to them.
 
1.       Ask if they're ok
How to ask
  • Be relaxed, friendly and concerned in your approach
  • Help them open up by asking questions like 'how are you doing?', 'what's been happening?'
  • Mention specific things that have made you concerned for them like, 'You see less chatty than usual. How are you?'
  • If they don't want to talk, don't criticise them
  • Avoid confrontation
  • You could say 'please call me if you ever want to chat' or 'is there someone else you'd rather talk to?'
2.       Listen without judgement
  • Take what they say seriously and don't interrupt or rush the conversation
  • Don't judge their experiences or reactions but acknowledge that things seem tough for them
  • If they need time to think, sit patiently with the silence
  • Encourage them to explain - "how are you feeling about that?" or "how long have you felt that way?"
  • Show that you've listened by repeating back what you've heard (in your own words) and ask if you have understood them properly.
3.       Encourage action
  • Ask, "What have you done in the past to manage similar situations?"
  • Ask, "How would you like me to support you?"
  • Ask, "What's something you can do for yourself right now? Something that's enjoyable or relaxing"
  • You could say "When I was going through a difficult time, I tried this…you might find it useful too?"
  • If they've been feeling really down for more than two weeks, encourage them to see a health professional. You could say, "It might be useful to link in with someone who can support you. I'm happy to help you find the right person to talk to."
  • Be positive about the role of professionals in getting through tough times.
4.       Check in
  • Pop a reminder in your diary to call them in a couple of weeks. If they're really struggling, follow up with them sooner.
  • You could say, "I've been thinking of you and wanted to know how you've been going since we last chatted."
  • Ask if they have found a better way to manage the situation. If they haven't done anything, don't judge them. They might just need someone to listen to them for the moment.
  • Stay in touch and be there for them. Genuine care and concern can make a real difference.
Do not judge
It's important not to make judgements about how a person is thinking and behaving.
 
You may feel that certain aspects of their thinking and behaviour are making their problems worse. For example, they may be drinking too much alcohol. 
 
However, pointing this out will not be particularly helpful to them. Reassurance, respect and support can help someone during these difficult periods.
 
Getting professional help
Although talking to someone about their feelings can help them feel safe and secure, these feelings may not last. It will probably require long-term support to help someone overcome their suicidal thoughts.
 
This will most likely be easier with professional help. Not only can a professional help deal with the underlying issues behind someone's suicidal thoughts, they can also offer advice and support for yourself.

​Looking after yourself
Supporting someone in distress can be distressing in itself. If you're helping someone who's struggling, make sure you take care of yourself as well.
 
If you need to talk about how you are feeling, please call Samaritans on 116 123, or email on jo@samaritans.org, whenever you need.