Might they be thinking about suicide? The only way to know is to ask.
Suicide is rare, but it happens. There are over 6,000 deaths by suicide in the UK every year – an average of 16 per day.
Don’t think: It couldn’t happen to us. It can happen in any family
Intense emotional strain and mental exhaustion can cause people to behave in uncharacteristic and unpredictable ways.
Don’t think: “He’s not the suicidal type.” There isn’t one.
Some things that drive people to think about suicide are:
What are the warning signs?
There may not be any. An emotional crisis is not like a heart attack or a stroke, where there are visible warning signs.
People who have reached rock bottom can be very skilled at hiding their thoughts and feelings.
They may be:
They may also be:
So how will you know if they’re thinking about suicide?
The safest way is to ask them.
Why it’s important to ask
If someone is suicidal, they are likely to be feeling:
They need someone to start the conversation for them. This shows them that they have permission to talk about it and that they don’t have to wrestle with their dark and terrible thoughts alone.
“Won’t talking about suicide put the idea in their head?”
No. If a person is suicidal, the idea is already there. If they aren’t suicidal, it won’t do any harm.
What if I say the wrong thing? It could damage our relationship.
Showing a person you care about them won’t damage your relationship. Saying nothing could result in losing them forever.
It’s important to trust your gut instincts. If something about the person doesn’t look or feel right, say something.
Saying something is safer than saying nothing, and saying the word won’t make it happen.
It can be really scary starting this kind of conversation.
Step 1: Explore how they’re feeling
If something bad is happening to them, ask, “How has it made you feel?” They may shrug and say, “I’m OK.” If they don’t seem OK to you, keep trying, quietly and gently.
Listen attentively. Try to keep the dialogue open by asking questions like, “How bad is it?” or “What’s that like?”
Don’t deny what they’re telling you, and don’t pretend you know how they feel.
Step 2: Ask the ‘S’ question
If they give any indication that they’re feeling hopeless or can’t see the point in going on, ask clearly and calmly, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?”
Don’t be too quick to accept denials or joking responses.
If someone tells you they’re feeling suicidal:
Getting medical help:
Even if it’s only a hunch, share your concerns with others:
Take care of yourself:
If at first you don’t find the help you need, persist. Try all avenues and don’t give up.
116 123 (24 hours) www.samaritans.org
PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide
0800 068 41 41 (Mon–Fri, 10am–5pm and 7pm–10pm; weekends 2pm–5pm)
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
0800 58 58 58 (7 days a week, 5pm–midnight) www.thecalmzone.net
0845 767 8000 (7 days a week, 6pm–11pm) www.sane.org.uk
0300 123 3393 (Mon–Fri, 9am–6pm) www.mind.org.uk
Maytree, A sanctuary for the suicidal
020 7263 7070 www.maytree.org.uk
If the person does take their own life, don’t feel guilty. It is not always possible to prevent suicide.
If you have been affected by someone’s suicide, Help is at Hand provides useful, practical information about dealing with your feelings and getting support. www.supportaftersuicide.org.uk/help-is-at-hand
Download the It’s safe to talk about suicide leaflet as a PDF.
This page was last modified: 13th Apr 2016