Many of us will notice changes in people around us and get the feeling that 'something is not right'. You may not want to say anything for fear of making the situation worse or because you don’t know what to say if they confirm your concerns.
While these conversations can be very difficult and confronting, there is a lot you can do. By talking to the person and getting further information, you can assist them to take positive action.
Many people who have thoughts of ending their own life get through the crisis and live a meaningful and contributing life. Having some knowledge on how to support someone living with suicidal thoughts can help them to get the support they need.
There are a number of risk factors or warning signs that might indicate a person is thinking about suicide . But if you know the person well, it may also be a general sense that 'something is not quite right'.
Ask yourself what is making you worry?
It is important to trust your gut instinct and act on what you have seen or heard.
It can be hard to start a conversation with someone you are worried about, but it is critical.
It is better to reach out than avoid the person for fear of getting the conversation wrong. If you feel uncertain if they may be at risk, ask the question directly – “Are you having thoughts about suicide?” and be prepared for the answer.
Experts generally agree that asking someone whether they are thinking about suicide is unlikely to make the situation worse or ‘put ideas in their head’.
Some possible ways to say this include:
“I’ve noticed… (state specific observations) and am worried about how you are and wondering if you have been thinking about suicide?”
“How have you been feeling lately? You seem to be really withdrawn and I’m worried that things are so bad that you are thinking about taking your life.”
Make the person feel comfortable by listening without judgement or criticism and don’t try to ‘fix’ the problem or talk them out of suicide. Just listen.
It is important to let the person express their feelings without interruption. They need an opportunity to talk about how they are feeling and may be relieved to be able to do so.
Regardless of what the person discloses, you should take them seriously and acknowledge the reasons the person has these thoughts. Remember, it doesn’t matter whether you think the issue is serious, it is what the person thinks that is most important.
Ensure they are safe for now and talk to the person about who else to involve. You can assist by connecting them with other supports and services. You might support them to:
In the event that you are concerned about the person’s safety or think they may be at imminent risk (that is, they might take their life soon) then contact emergency services immediately and tell them what you know. Stay with the person or ensure someone else is with the person until support arrives.
It is important to check back in with the person. That may be the following day, or each week. Make a diary appointment for you to call or check-in if it is not someone that you see every day. It can help the person to know that others are there to support them.
Be kind to yourself. It can be draining talking to someone about suicide and supporting them. Make sure you check your own responses and get help if you need it. It can be good to talk it through with someone you trust or call one of the 24/7 helplines to talk through your response if you need to.
Conversations Matter is a suite of online resources developed to support community discussion about suicide.
A low cost, self-paced online training course on the essentials of suicide prevention, including how to question, persuade and refer someone who may be suicidal; suicide warning signs and how to get help for someone in crisis. Course length: approximately 90min.