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Having a conversation with someone you're worried about

It can be frightening and distressing when someone you care about wants to harm themselves. It’s important to remember that you don’t need to be a clinician, a GP, or a nurse to check-in with someone you are worried about. If a person you know seems to be struggling, reaching out and connecting with them could save their life.

When should I ask

Choose a time and place where you can talk openly and easily, without getting interrupted. It’s important that you don’t have to be anywhere or have other commitments - it might take a long time to have this conversation and your friend or loved one needs to feel that you have time to listen. Ideally, your friend or loved one needs to be calm to be able to have this conversation. You also need to be calm to be able to have this conversation. Make sure the time is right for you too. Some suggestions for locations:

  • At their place – it’s easier to talk to someone when they are comfortable in their own environment.

  • Doing something you enjoy together – sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone when you’re doing something like watching bad TV, cooking dinner or playing cards or video games.

  • Go for a walk – you could wander up to a coffee shop, go for a walk in the park or along a beach or river. Even a walk around block.

  • Go for a drive – talking side-by-side is a great tactic, it can take some of the intensity out of a face-to-face conversation.

What if we’re online?

If someone posts a comment on a social media page or an online forum that makes it sound like they’re thinking about suicide, contact them directly, send them a private message.  It’s still okay to talk online, just not in a public forum. #YouCanTalk

If you feel worried about someone asking whether they are thinking about suicide won’t ‘put ideas in their head’. Your friend or loved one will probably feel relieved at being heard and understood.

Conversation starters

Below are some suggested conversation starters. How are you? Be prepared for ‘fine’ or ‘good thanks’ and follow up with: How are you really? You don’t seem yourself. Letting your friend or loved one know you have noticed something different about them shows you care. It’s important to let them know you’re concerned about them, not upset with them for behaving differently. I’ve had a terrible week, how was yours? Sometimes it’s good to break the ice with the fact that life isn’t always great, and to show that you understand. Sharing some of the things you are struggling with can help start the conversation. Be careful not to make it all about you though. Is everything okay at home/work/uni? Making the question specific can get the conversation started, but remember that it might not be one thing. It might be a combination of many things, or maybe nothing in particular – just a general feeling.

What to say?

  • Ask the direct question. Are you having thoughts about suicide? Be prepared that the person may answer ‘yes’. Then listen with empathy and without judgement.

  • Keep asking open ended questions, encouraging the conversation. How long have you been feeling this way? Have you felt this way before?

  • Make sure the person knows you’re here for them. Use non-verbal cues like eye contact, hand on their hand, nodding while they are talking.

  • Let the person know that lots of people think about suicide and that it’s OK to talk about those feelings. You’re not alone, lots of people feel like this. Thank you for telling me. I’m glad you’re telling me how you feel.

  • Try to offer hope and suggest that people can find ways to get through tough times. I’m here, we can find a way to get through this.

  • Reassure your friend or loved one that you’re here to listen and support them and that you don’t need to rush off. Just take your time, there’s no rush. I know talking about this can be difficult. I’m here to listen. You can tell me anything.

  • Be prepared to listen, even if it’s hard to hear, even if it makes you upset.

  • Find out if they’ve made a plan. This is important. People who have made a plan are at more risk. Have you thought about how you would kill yourself? Have you thought about when you would kill yourself? Have you taken any steps to get the things you would need to carry out your plan?

Use appropriate terminology

  • Died by suicide

  • Suicided

  • Ended his/her life

  • Took his/her life

  • Attempt to end his/her life

What not to say

  • Don’t try to talk them out of suicide by reminding them ‘what they’ve got going for them’ or how much it would hurt their friends and family.

  • Don’t try to fix their problems. Listen with empathy and without judgement.

  • Don’t dismiss it as ‘attention seeking’. Take them seriously and acknowledge the reasons they want to die.

Avoid stigmatising terminology

  • Committed suicide

  • Successful suicide

  • Completed suicide

  • Failed attempt at suicide

  • Unsuccessful suicide


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