If you’re worried that someone you know may be feeling suicidal it can be really hard to know what to say to them.
Maybe you’re worried about upsetting them by bringing it up. Below you’ll find information on signs that someone could be feeling suicidal, what to say to them, how to say it and where to find help.
Suicide is rare, but…
There are over 6,000 deaths by suicide in the UK every year – an average of 16 per day.
It can happen to anyone. There’s no such thing as ‘the suicidal type’.
We all go through tough times, whether it’s the break down of a relationship, losing a job, or feeling like a failure when good things are happening to other people.
It doesn’t have to be one big thing – it can be lots of smaller things, and remember that everyone deals with things differently.
Sometimes there are no warning signs because the person wants to keep their personal crisis private, and so will work hard at hiding their thoughts and feelings.
- Unexpected mood changes – including suddenly being calm and happy after being very depressed
- Social withdrawal
- Change in sleeping and eating patterns
- Lack of energy
- Neglect of personal appearance
- Reckless behaviour
- Increased drug or alcohol abuse
- Anger or irritability
- Talking about suicide or wanting to die– their statements may be vague or appear to be joking about it
- Giving away possessions
- Saying goodbye – to friends and family as if they won’t be seeing them again.
So how will you know?
You ask. It sounds scary, but the best thing to do is talk about it.
Just showing your support and giving someone space to communicate their feelings can be a huge release for them.
Don’t be scared of the S word
‘Won’t talking about suicide put the idea in their head?’
No. If a person is suicidal then the idea is already there, and if they aren’t it won’t do any harm – it might come as a great relief to actually acknowledge that they’re feeling like this.
Saying something is safer than saying nothing. Trust your gut and start the conversation. Saying the word suicide won’t make it happen.
What to say
Not too much. Above all, LISTEN
EXPLORE HOW THEY’RE FEELING. Ask questions like “How does that feel?” that keep the conversation open and allow them to talk
Don’t deny what they’re telling you, and don’t pretend you know how they feel or try to convince them how lucky they are.
ASK THE QUESTION. If they give any indication they’re feeling hopeless or can’t see the point of going, on ask them clearly, “ “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” or “Are you thinking about taking your own life?” Don’t be too quick to accept denials or jokes as responses.
Don’t judge or criticise. For example, they may be drinking too much alcohol. But pointing this out won’t be particularly helpful to them.
Reassure them that these feelings won’t last forever and that they can find help
Don’t try to solve their problems. If someone is feeling suicidal, they need reassurance that they are valued that they can talk about how they feel and that help is available. Problem solving can come later
What to do next
Feeling suicidal is frightening. If someone tells you they’re feeling suicidal, make sure they’re not left alone.
Remove anything they could use to take their own life.
Tell the person that you’d like to get them medical help now. Sit with them and call their GP surgery, call 999 or take them to A&E and stay with them until they are seen by a member of the mental health team
Even if it’s only a hunch, share your concerns with others.
Don’t be afraid to involve family, friends, or colleagues. And talk to them about how you’re feeling.
Use these confidential helplines and sources of support
It can be difficult to hear the suicidal thoughts of a friend or loved one and they may be anxious not to frighten or upset you by telling you. Sometimes people find it easier to talk to a stranger, so encourage them to ring one of the helplines below. You can ring them yourself if you are worried about someone.
- CALM 0800 58 58 58
Helpline & web chat available 5pm to midnight every day
116 123 (24 hours)
A sanctuary for the suicidal
020 7263 7070
0300 123 3393 (Mon – Fri 9am – 6pm)
Prevention of Young Suicide
0800 068 41 41 (Mon – Fri 10am – 5pm / 7pm – 10pm. Weekends 2pm – 5pm)
This web page has been developed in partnership with the University of Exeter Medical School