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.