Supporting someone who feels suicidal

Explains how to support someone who feels suicidal, giving practical suggestions for what you can do and where you can go for support.

Your stories

Raising awareness after my husband took his life

Clare blogs about losing her husband and the importance of raising awareness about depression.

Clare Francis
Posted on 15/08/2014

Stephen Fry's story shows we still need to talk

Tracey blogs about how stories like Stephen Fry's about suicide,can help remove the fear and prejudice.

Posted on 06/06/2013

Learning to cope after losing a friend to suicide

I haven’t always been an anxious person, a bit of a worrier perhaps, but no more than anyone else.

Posted on 30/09/2014

Try not to judge

It can be very upsetting if someone close to you thinks about taking their own life. It’s understandable to feel shocked, frightened or angry. However, it’s important to try not to judge that person or blame them for the way they are feeling. Often, finding someone who is prepared to listen and be supportive is the first step towards a person seeking help.

“It has helped me to have someone who loves me who accepts that I am feeling what I am feeling, and yet choose to remain with me quietly and encourage, but not force me, to have a sip of water or a bite of something, or go for a walk with them, etc.”

Talk to the person about how they feel

If you think someone is suicidal, one of the most important things you can do is to talk to them about how they feel and be there to listen.

If you find it difficult to know where to start, you could try:

  • Asking open, non-judgemental questions about their situation such as, “When did that happen?”, “How did you feel?”.
  • Exploring their thoughts about suicide, by asking “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “What thoughts have you had about suicide?”. This can help them talk about their feelings and can give you an understanding of their thoughts and intentions.
  • Giving them time to talk by listening and reflecting back what they have said.

“The thing I find most helpful, is just knowing someone is there. Sometimes just listening to someone drivel on about mundane things. Sometimes talking about how I feel – just simply saying to someone I feel suicidal.”

It’s understandable that you may feel pressure ‘to say the right thing’, but remember by just being there and listening in a compassionate way, you are helping that person to feel less isolated and frightened.

Encourage them to get help

Even when someone appears to be absolutely determined to take their own life, it is important to explore every possible option and source of support with them. You could talk to them about the idea of getting help and ask them how they feel about this. By doing this, you can start to encourage them to get support. This may be by going to see a therapist or a counsellor (see ‘Find out what support is available’ and ‘Useful contacts’).

Ask them how you can help

Someone may know what helps them or what has worked in the past. If they know, they can tell you what it is. If they don’t, you could have a conversation with them about what you can do and perhaps write a support plan together. It is important they agree to the help you offer. Ideas of how you can provide support include:

  • helping them to book appointments if they find it difficult to ring the GP
  • going with them to appointments
  • helping them to identify sources of support, and together learning more about the help these sources offer (see ‘Find out what support is available’ and ‘Useful contacts’).

Help them stay safe

If someone is feeling suicidal and talks to you about intending to end their life, stay with them. Remove anything that could cause harm, such as sharp objects.

You may want to seek support and advice (see ‘What should I do in an emergency’ and ‘Useful contacts’).

“When I tell my husband I'm having suicidal thoughts, he hides things that I can hurt myself with and makes sure I'm not on my own. He also knows which friends he and I can trust to help and understand so he can phone them for help."

Help them think about positive things

Exploring reasons for living can be a positive way of supporting someone who is feeling suicidal. You could do this by helping them to:

  • Write a list of positive people or things in their life.
  • Keep a memory box of positive things to look at when they are feeling low. These could include photos, a favourite CD or perfume, letters or jokes.

“Even when I’ve been in the midst of despair and unable to see any way forward, being reminded that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary state of affairs has helped me focus on the hope that all things pass.”

Look out for warning signs

It can be very difficult to recognise when someone is intending to take their own life. Sometimes, a suicide attempt can seem to come suddenly, without warning. Often if someone is feeling suicidal, they may find it very hard to talk about these feelings, and go to great lengths to disguise these feelings or to convince friends and family that they are coping. If someone often experiences suicidal feelings, they may know their own warning signs and might be able to tell you what these are or write them down. This could help you to look out for the signs in the future.

Warning signs to watch out for include:

  • stressful events such as failing exams or being made redundant
  • experiencing bereavement or loss
  • feelings of shame
  • isolation or loneliness
  • loss of self-esteem
  • giving away possessions
  • sleep problems – particularly waking up early
  • use of suicide-promoting websites
  • someone taking less care of themselves, for example eating badly or not caring what they look like
  • a sense of uselessness and having no purpose – feeling "What's the point?"
  • someone talking about ending their life or about suicide in general
  • a marked change of behaviour – someone may appear to be calm and at peace for the first time or, more usually, may be withdrawn and have difficulty communicating.

Find out what support is available

Finding out there is support available can often be a relief for people experiencing suicidal feelings and for family and friends close to them. There is a range of support options available. For example:

  • talking treatments, such as psychotherapy or counselling (see ‘Useful contacts’)
  • support groups – many organisations around the country, including local Minds, run support groups for people with mental health problems (see ‘Useful contacts’)
  • online support – there are many forms of online support, such as Mind’s Elefriends community (also see ‘Useful contacts’)
  • community mental health or social care support
  • helplines – organisations such as the Samaritans offer emergency helplines for people who are feeling suicidal (see ‘Useful contacts’)
  • medication, such as antidepressants.

If your friend or family member wants to seek professional help, the first step would usually be to visit their GP. However, this can be a difficult step and your friend or family member may need support to help them do this. Getting professional help on the NHS can also take time – waiting lists for talking treatments can be long in particular. You may need to think about what they can do in the short-term to help themselves whilst waiting for treatment.

Create a support plan

Discussing strategies for seeking help and creating a personal support list is a useful way of reviewing options with the person you are concerned about (see the ‘Support plan’). The list may include the contact details of family and friends, helplines, organisations and professionals available for support. Encourage the person to keep this list by the phone and to agree to call someone when they are feeling suicidal. Some people may resist sharing their personal feelings and problems. If they are reluctant to seek outside help, helping them make a personal support list may provide some things to think about, allowing them to consider the options when they feel ready.

Plan for a crisis

It can help to talk with the person and make a plan of what they need in a crisis and what role you might play. You might find it helpful to:

  • Know the steps you would take in a crisis to support your friend or family member. (You can make a note of these steps in a ‘Support plan’).
  • Help the person you are supporting to write down how they would like to be treated in a crisis. This may include what they would like to happen if they become unable to make a decision about their treatment or domestic arrangements. (See our information on crisis services.)

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