It’s understandable to feel frightened, shocked or angry. But, it’s important to listen, be supportive and encourage the person to get help. Try not to blame people, judge them or make them feel guilty for the thoughts they are having. Around 1 in 5 people have suicidal thoughts at some point in their life and approximately 75% of suicides are by people who have had no contact with mental health services in the year before their death. 4,400 people end their own lives each year – which works out as one death every two hours. Around 10 times that many people attempt suicide.
You don’t have to be a mental health professional to help someone who is feeling suicidal; you just need to be able to listen. Asking directly about suicide is the right thing to do if you are worried about someone.
Many people fear talking directly about suicide in case they “give the person the idea”, but there is no evidence that talking about suicide can be harmful – quite the opposite in fact. For many people it can be huge relief to be asked the question in a direct way.
It is a myth that people who talk about suicide are unlikely to go through with the act. Anyone who talks or writes about taking their own life should be taken seriously. Never assume that a person who has spoken about suicidal thoughts before and not acted on those thoughts won’t do so this time.
How to help someone who is feeling suicidal
Be alert:Not everyone who thinks about suicide will tell someone and there are some people who give no indication at all of their intention. However, there are warning signs that we can all look out for. These include, if a person is:
- Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.
- Actively looking for ways to kill themselves.
- Talking about feeling hopeless or of having no reason to live.
- Talking about being a burden to others.
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
- Suddenly very much ‘recovered’ after a period of depression.
- Visiting or calling people unexpectedly to say goodbye either directly or indirectly.
- Making arrangements; setting their affairs in order.
- Giving things away, such as prized possessions
Tell the person why you’re worried about them, and ask about suicide.
Suicide remains a huge taboo in our society and the person at risk may have kept these feelings to themselves for a long time. By asking about suicide directly you are getting across the message that it’s OK to talk about it – and that you are there to listen. Say what you mean. Ask: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or: “Have you been thinking about killing yourself?” and avoid phrases like: “You’re not going to do anything silly are you?” or: “Are you thinking of ending it all?”
Hearing that someone is feeling suicidal can be shocking, but it won’t help the situation if you panic. Try to stay calm and supportive.
Listen and Empathise:
Listening in a compassionate and non-judgemental way is one of the most helpful things you can do. Avoid the temptation to try and change the subject or to list all the "positives" in the person's life. Just listen and try and see things from their point of view.
Ask if they have a plan:
If the person has a specific suicide plan and the means to take their own life then they need urgent help. Suggest looking at these resouces for guidance.
How to look after yourself
Knowing someone you care about is having suicidal feelings can be very distressing and emotionally draining. Some people make repeated suicide attempts and appear to express a strong wish for death. Accepting that someone has suicidal feelings and making sense of how you feel can be difficult.
It’s important to look after your own physical and mental wellbeing. For example, make sure you get enough sleep, eat regularly and do things you enjoy.
You may feel guilty, upset or angry with the person who is considering ending their life. It is understandable to experience a range of feelings. If you are in a close relationship with someone who has suicidal thoughts, you may feel that what is going on for the person is in some way your fault. If you do feel like this, it can be helpful to talk to someone you trust about how you feel.
It is important that you are able to look after your own health and ask for help to deal with the emotions you may be experiencing.
- Talk to a friend or family member.
- Get help from online forums – the national self-harm network has a helpline and online forum for families affected by self-harm and suicide: Phone: 0800 622 6000 (7pm to 11pm).
- Get support from a local carers’ group.
- Find out about the Five Ways to Wellbeing – proven ways of improving how you feel.
- Living Life to the Full is an online course aimed at improving people’s wellbeing – taking this course may help you to feel stronger and better able to help other people.