How do you talk to someone who may be suicidal?

Are you worried about someone who may have suicidal thoughts? Allowing them to talk about how they feel is extremely important. Here’s some advice on how to get the conversation started.

When someone you know is thinking about suicide

It can be shocking to discover that someone you care about is thinking about suicide. You may have noticed a change in their behaviour and other suicide warning signs. You may find it hard to understand why they are feeling this way or how things got to this point. However, as a family member, friend or colleague, it’s important that you allow them to talk about it.

If you’re concerned about the person’s wellbeing, one of the best things you can do is talk to them about how they’re feeling. Yes, it can be a tough task, but the simple act of talking about it shows the person that you care — something that’s vitally important to someone in distress.

Try to put aside your fear and trepidation and start the conversation.

 

How to talk about suicidal thoughts with someone at risk

 

Start the conversation: talking about suicidal thoughts

People in distress often need someone to talk to about suicidal thoughts. To start the conversation, try to find a safe, private and quiet space where they can talk freely about their feelings.

Let the person know that you have noticed a change in them – a change in behaviour or something that they have said that might have alerted you.

You can open the conversation with a line like:

  • “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately. Is everything OK?”
  • “I am worried about you. Can we talk about what’s troubling you?”
  • “How have you been coping recently? What’s happening in your life?”
  • “I saw your post on Facebook. Do you need to talk?”
  • “You seem really sad/unhappy/angry lately. I’m worried about you. Can we talk about this?”

It’s important that you make it abundantly clear that you are concerned about them, that you’re here to listen, and that you care about them. Let them really know that they can share their feelings and worries without interruption or judgment.

 

How to talk about suicide: follow up questions

When talking to someone who is suicidal, you can keep the conversation going with more questions, like:

  • “How long have you been feeling this way?”
  • “Do you ever feel like giving up?”
  • “Are you thinking about suicide?”
  • “Are you having thoughts of ending your life?”
  • “How can I support you now?”

You can also provide reassurance, with phrases like:

  • “I am here for you.”
  • “You are not alone.”
  • “I am here to listen.”
  • “I’m not you, so I cannot understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and I’m here to help.”

 

Expressing your concerns to a person thinking about suicide: what to keep in mind

  • Let the person at risk know that you are concerned and that you care. Often, knowing another person cares enough to become involved and listen to them can be a great comfort to someone who is suicidal.
  • It is important to simply describe what you have observed rather than use words that convey judgment such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. If the person feels judged, they might feel embarrassed or withdraw.
  • Be honest and genuine in your concern.
  • Acknowledge that you understand that the person is experiencing a lot of pain at present.
  • Show respect and be as understanding as possible about their situation.
  • Maintain eye contact and open body language.
  • When discussing suicide, ensure you listen carefully to what they have to say. Use active listening techniques, such as paraphrasing what the person has said and reciting it back to them to ensure you understand them.
  • Avoid minimising or dismissing their problems to ensure they know you’re taking them seriously.
  • Avoid using statements such as “You don’t know how lucky you are” or “You shouldn’t feel like that”, these might sound to the person as though you are judging them and minimising how they are feeling.
  • Let the person know that they are not alone. Lots of people can feel this way and it’s important to talk about their feelings.
  • Try to offer realistic hope – it is possible for situations to improve or change for the better. It is likely that their problems weren’t created overnight, therefore the situation will probably take time to resolve, but that you’re there for them to help get through the tough times.

 

Getting help when someone you know is thinking about suicide

 

Encourage the person to seek professional help

The person who is feeling suicidal may not have the drive or energy to get help on their own. Try to encourage them to seek professional support for their situation. Here are some ways they can get help:

  • Make an appointment with their GP, psychologist, counsellor or mental health provider. Victoria’s Better Health Channel has more information on the healthcare system.
  • Call a helpline like SuicideLine Victoria on 1300 651 251 or visit the Head to Health website for referrals to other services.
  • If it is an emergency, call 000 immediately.

 

What if the suicidal person does not want to talk to a health professional?

It’s not uncommon for people to be unwilling to speak to a health professional about how they’re feeling. This may depend on many factors ranging from their cultural background to a possible poor experience in the past or just feeling hopeless about their situation.

If they are reluctant to get help, keep these points in mind:

  • Remind them that their safety is the ultimate priority, and professional support will help keep them safe.
  • Normalise the idea of seeking help as much as possible.
  • If they’re reluctant to see someone face-to-face, online counselling can be another way to get support.
  • Speak to a trusted person, family member, teacher, faith leader or someone who can help you – you do not have to do this alone.
  • Help them research options for professional support.
  • Offer to accompany them to their first appointment to support them.
  • Make a safety plan with them. The plan can include a list of things that can help the person in a crisis. For example, a list of people they can contact, phone numbers for health professionals and helplines, a list of good and positive things in their life, coping strategies, and reminders of reasons to live.

Looking after someone who is suicidal can be a difficult and overwhelming experience, but you do not need to do it alone. After you’ve talked to them about how they’re feeling, you can support them to get help, keeping them safe.

 

Seek help immediately if the suicide risk is high

If the person says that they are seriously thinking about suicide and have a plan to carry it out, you should seek professional help as soon as possible. Let them know that you’re concerned about their safety and cannot keep it a secret, because you care. Do not try to deal with the situation alone. You can call one of our counsellors at Suicide Line Victoria on 1300 651 251 for advice and support or other helplines such as Lifeline on 13 11 14.

 

If the person is at immediate risk and may harm themselves or someone else, call 000.

If you want to speak to a professional counsellor, SuicideLine Victoria is free and is available 24/7. Call us on 1300 651 251 or click on the floating button on the right to start a webchat.

If it is an emergency, call 000.

 

 

More from concerned about someone

Why do people self-harm?

There are many complex reasons why someone engages in self-harming behaviour, and it can be a difficult and sensitive topic to talk about. Understand the possible reasons why people self-harm and what you can do to help someone who is hurting themselves.

Read more

Why do people think about suicide?

Trying to understand why someone is considering ending their life can be very challenging. SuicideLine Victoria looks at negative life events and mental illness that could lead to suicidal thoughts.

Read more

Supporting someone who is experiencing domestic violence

If someone has told you that they are experiencing domestic violence, you may initially feel overwhelmed and unprepared to help. But there are things you can do to support the person. Understand how you can help someone who is experiencing domestic violence.

Read more

Supporting someone who is experiencing domestic violence

If someone has told you that they are experiencing domestic violence, you may initially feel overwhelmed and unprepared to help. But there are things you can do to support the person. Understand how you can help someone who is experiencing domestic violence.

Read more