Suicidal feelings can be frightening and painful for the person who is experiencing them, as well as for those around them. If someone you know is experiencing suicidal feelings, here are some things you can do:
Try not to judge
If someone you know is thinking 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.
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. Even just giving them time to talk by listening and reflecting back what they have said can be very helpful.
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 okay to ask someone about their suicidal feelings. Talking about suicide will not put the idea into their head, but will encourage them to talk about their feelings.
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 our information on seeking help for a mental health problem for ideas on where to start.
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.
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.
Help them think about positive things
Exploring reasons for living can be a positive way of supporting someone who is feeling suicidal.
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; a suicide attempt can seem to come suddenly, and sometimes the person might go to great lengths to hide these feelings. 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 at work
- experiencing bereavement or loss
- feelings of shame
- isolation or loneliness
- loss of self-esteem
- sleep problems
- 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
If you’re worried that someone is at immediate risk of taking their own life, you should stay with that person and take one of the following steps:
- encourage them to ring the Samaritans, 116 123, open 24 hours a day
- contact their GP for an emergency appointment or the out of hours service
- ring 999 or NHS direct on 111
- go to the nearest A&E department.
If someone has attempted suicide, you should ring 999 and stay with them until the ambulance arrives.
This information was published in November 2015. We will revise it in 2018.