What to do if someone you know is having suicidal thoughts
How to open up a conversation with them
According to the mental health charity Mind, around one in five of us experiences thoughts of suicide at some point during our lifetime. If you’re worried that someone you know is thinking about ending their life, the best thing you can do is direct them to support. This guide will show you how to do that.
In most cases, the only way to know if someone is having thoughts of suicide is to ask them. By doing this, you can often create relief for them and open up an opportunity for them to get support. You might be worried that this will increase the risk of them thinking about suicide, but evidence shows that talking about it in a safe and sensitive manner does not make it more likely.
If speaking about suicide would be difficult or triggering for yourself, however, then it’s better to direct someone else, like a teacher or counsellor, to the person you’re worried about.
If you’re worried about someone close to you and you do feel able to bring it up with them, remember TALE:
- Take notice
- Encourage support
Here are those steps in more detail:
1. Take notice. Have you noticed any change in the person? Are they behaving unusually? It can help to speak with someone else who you trust before you decide to do anything – you won't have to share all the details with them.
Here are some signs to look out for:
- Actions or behaviours such as taking risks, self-harm, withdrawal, aggressive behaviour, or a sudden change in character.
- Physical changes such as weight change, looking tired, evidence of a suicide attempt (e.g. scar), an unkempt appearance, or evidence of substance misuse.
- Events such as bereavement, exam failure, job loss, relationship break-up, debt, becoming a parent, or bullying.
- Expressions such as ‘I’ve had enough’, ‘It’s all too much’, ‘You’ll be sorry when I’m gone’, ‘I can’t take it anymore’, ‘What’s the point?', ‘I’d be better off dead’, ‘I want to die’, ‘I don’t know what else to do’, or ‘It’d be better if I wasn’t here’.
2. Ask. It can be hard to know where to start, but sometimes it can be as simple as saying ‘I’m worried about you, can we talk?’
Here are a few others to try:
- ‘You haven’t seemed yourself lately, do you want to talk?’
- ‘I haven’t seen you for a while, do you want to talk?’
- ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ – by using the word ‘suicide’, you are telling them that it’s OK to talk openly about their thoughts of suicide with you.
- ‘Sometimes, when people are feeling the way you are, they think about suicide. Is that what you’re thinking about?’
- ‘Are you telling me you want to kill yourself / end your life / die / die by suicide?’
- ‘It sounds like you’re thinking about suicide, is that right?’
- ‘It sounds like life feels too hard for you right now and you want to kill yourself, is that right?’
3. Listen. This might be the first time this person has told anyone what's bothering them, so let them do the talking.
If they choose to open up to you:
- Let them feel understood about how they are feeling and their reasons for wanting to end their life – this is an important part of showing empathy.
- Don’t try to steer the conversation away from suicide. It might be difficult to listen to, but it’s important that the person feels heard.
- Try not to be judgemental, tell them they shouldn’t be feeling this way, or give advice – you don’t have to fix anything.
- Try to use supportive language, such as ‘It’s OK to feel like this’, ‘Any suicide attempt is a serious attempt’, ‘What things have kept you safe from suicide in the past?’, ‘It’s really positive that you’ve reached out for help’, and ‘Thank you for sharing that with me’.
- Avoid using insensitive language. ‘Failed suicide attempt’, for example, might imply that the person should have ended their life in order to be successful. Describing their actions as ‘attention seeking’ or ‘just a cry for help’ could well steer them towards more drastic actions in the future. Remember that any thoughts or steps about suicide are serious and that the person suffering deserves to be listened to and supported.
If they don't choose to open up:
- Don’t feel disheartened or frustrated; it’s possible that they just aren’t ready yet. Let them know that you’re there for them if or when they decide they want to talk.
4. Encourage support. It's important that the person is directed to support. Whether you encourage them to talk to a teacher, parent or helpline, there are people that can help. We list a number of support services and helplines under ‘Good stuff from elsewhere’ below.
You might want to say something like the following:
- ‘You’re not alone. We can look for support together.’
- ‘It’s not uncommon to have thoughts of suicide. With help and support, many people can work through these and stay safe.’
- ‘There are organisations that offer support, such as the Papyrus Hopeline. I can help you to find their contact details.'
- ‘You’ve shown a lot of strength in telling me this. I want to help you find support.’
- ‘There is hope. There is help available and we can find it together.’
Support services and helplines
It's worth speaking with a teacher, doctor (GP), or counsellor (therapist) to see if they can direct you to any other local support services. Check out the helplines under ‘Good stuff from elsewhere’ if you don't know who to talk to.
Good stuff from elsewhere
Papyrus provide confidential support and advice to people under the age of 35 who are struggling with thoughts of suicide, and anyone worried about a young person, through their helpline HOPELINEUK. Call: 0800 068 4141. Text: 07860 039 967. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Befrienders offers support to people across the world who are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide. You can search by country to find a local helpline, or see their list of other organisations for more international support.
The Mix offers essential support for under 25. You can get one-to-one focused support with a member of their trained team through phone, text or email. The Mix also offers a counselling service, group chat service and discussion boards, which you can find on their website. Call: 0808 808 4994. Crisis messenger (if you’re experiencing any painful emotion or are in crisis): text THEMIX to 85258.
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