Starting Difficult Conversations - How to Talk to Someone Who is Suicidal
Trigger warnings: suicide, suicidal thoughts
1. Start the conversation
If you are worried about someone and want to talk about their feelings, choose a place and time where they will feel safe and will be uninterrupted. Conversation starters can include…
- “How are you?” or “Are you ok?” if they provide a short answer or say they are fine follow with “Are you really ok?” or “How are you really?”
- “You don’t seem like yourself” this statement shows that you care about them. It is important to show that you are concerned for them rather than upset with them for acting differently.
- “Is everything ok at home/work/uni?” a specific question can get the conversation started but remember they may be upset/worried/stressed about a combination of things or nothing in particular.
2. Ask them directly if they are suicidal: “Are you having suicidal thoughts?”
Lots of people worry about saying the wrong thing, but just kindly saying, “I, noticed you don’t seem happy or I'm worried about you, are you having suicidal thoughts?” is a good place to start. The question will not suddenly make someone suicidal just by asking it. Ensure that you do not sound judgemental when asking someone if they are having suicidal thoughts. For example, do not say “You’re not thinking of doing anything stupid, are you?” as this may close down communication.
3. Listen to the person without judgement
Whilst they are talking stay with them and take them seriously as talking about their feelings will be a big relief. Do not interrupt the person or say phrases like “Your family would be so hurt if you died”, “Suicide is selfish”, “Suicide is wrong” “We all have bad days” as these are judgemental statements that may stop someone from opening up. It maybe difficult, but when someone is discussing suicidal thoughts, never promise to keep secrets, if they are in danger you may have to contact some further assistance without their permission (eg calling 999).
4. Offer words of comfort and advice
Ask them if they have thought of ways that they can be supported and whether you can help. Assure them by saying “with help, suicidal feelings will pass over time”. It may be useful to ask them to draw on past experiences by asking “Have you felt this way before?” and “What did you do to cope or get through it?”
5. Encourage them to seek further support
Although it is abig step for a suicidal person to open up to you, encourage them to seek further support from friends, family or professionals that they trust. Suggest that they could contact their GP or the University of Exeter’s Wellbeing Services. The University wellbeing service where there are lots of resources which are both self-help and guidance from trained professionals. You can find out more here Wellbeing Services | Student Wellbeing |University of Exeter.
If support is more urgent suggest calling or contacting the following numbers:
- Shout: Text ‘Shout’ to 85258 to start texting with a trained volunteer.
- Samaritans: Call: 116 123 , Email: email@example.com to talk confidentially with the listening service.
- Papyrus: Call: 0800 068 41 41, Text: 07860 039 967, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org for advice surrounding mental health and suicide for a young person
More resources for support
Supporting someone in your life who is struggling with their mental health and having suicidal thoughts is not easy, so it is also important to look after your own welfare. ‘Mind’ have some great resources on how you can be supportive to others and supporting others to seek help: