There are different reasons why someone might experience suicidal feelings. There may be an obvious cause, such as a particular event or problem. It may also be because of a combination of different factors. There may also be no obvious reason. Suicidal feelings may appear suddenly or develop gradually over time.
Below are some steps you can take to help you support someone you believe is feeling suicidal. You can also download our pocket guide:
If you think someone is suicidal, one of the most important things you can do is to talk to them about how they feel and be there to listen.
If you find it difficult to know where to start, you could try:
- Asking open, non-judgemental questions about their situation such as, “When did that happen?”, “How did you feel?”
- Exploring their thoughts about suicide, by asking “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “What thoughts have you had about suicide?”. This can help them talk about their feelings and can give you an understanding of their thoughts and intentions
- It’s important to use the word ‘suicide’ or being clear about asking if someone has considered ‘taking their own life’. Being direct gives the message that it’s ok to talk about suicide openly. It also avoids any ambiguity
- Asking about suicide will not make someone more likely to attempt it. By asking directly, you give someone permission to tell you how they feel. Once someone starts talking, they’ve got a better chance of discovering other options to suicide
Give them time to talk by listening and reflecting back what they have said.
It’s understandable that you may feel pressure ‘to say the right thing’, but remember by just being there and listening in a compassionate way, you are helping that person to feel less isolated and frightened.
It can be very upsetting to hear that someone is thinking about taking their own life. It’s understandable to feel shocked, frightened or angry. However, it’s important to try not to judge that person or blame them for the way they are feeling. Often, finding someone who is prepared to listen and be supportive is the first step towards a person seeking help.
Be aware of the words you use. Asking someone ‘if they are going to do something silly’ can minimise the issue and may cause someone to feel unable to talk about how they are feeling.
It can be tempting to suggest reasons not to consider suicide e.g. ‘think of how hurt your family would be’. This can increase feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
It is important to explore sources of support with the person. You could talk to them about the idea of getting help and ask them how they feel about this. By doing this, you can start to encourage them to get support.
If you are planning to ask someone about thoughts of suicide, it can be useful to have some information to hand about sources of support:
- If the person is already receiving support from mental health services, you will need to contact the team that cares for them during their normal working hours. This would be their best option for seeking help
- If the person’s needs are urgent, needing immediate help from a mental health professional, then they should attend their nearest Hospital A&E department and ask for a mental health worker to see them
- For non-urgent matters encourage the person to make an appointment to see their GP and they will assist them to access the most appropriate service