If you are worried about someone’s mental health and wellbeing, or have any concerns or worries about their feelings towards suicide, best practice is clear, always ask if they are OK, and be prepared to ask twice, “Are you really OK?”
Download our factsheet which outlines some of the signs that you can look for when worried.
We also understand being worried can also raise other questions, our training courses cover these in greater depth but we have outlined three main areas for you here:
- If I ask about suicide , what do I do if they say yes?
- Where can they get help?
- Where and how can I get support for me?
Stay calm and be honest. If you’re frightened and you have no idea what to say, that’s absolutely okay! This isn’t just scary for them, it’s scary for you too and you can tell them. Being honest about the fact that you don’t know exactly what to say or do but reassure them. You will need to acknowledge the importance of what they have said and be positive that they’ve chosen to talk to you about how they are feeling. Building up trust together is a great place to start looking at what you do next.
Be prepared to put aside you own views about suicide. Non-judgemental listening is be invaluable and a real skill. Really listening is hearing what is being said and not listening in preparation to reply so be patient and understanding. Repeat phrases they use to reflect on and clarify what they mean, giving them the time, they need to say everything they want to. Allow them to fully describe and explain everything that has happened and how they are feeling. It takes a lot of courage to open about feeling suicidal, so when someone expresses suicidal thoughts they should always be taken seriously. The aim of the conversation is to ensure the person feels safe and focuses on remaining safe. Try to imagine what it is like for them and focus on their thoughts and feelings instead of your own, keep the focus on them and try to be empathetic.
People can and will be fearful of saying the wrong thing, or making matters worse, so we have put together just a few helpful hint of things to avoid;
- Phrases that belittle or undermine how they are feeling such as “you shouldn’t care about that” or “you’ll get over it”
- Don’t rush to fill silent pauses, instead, give them the chance to expand on what they are saying
- “It’s not that bad,” “Stay positive” or “Don’t say that”: Belittling or invalidating a person’s feelings is not helping them. Their ability to verbally express their feelings out loud is a big step in the right direction.
- “I know how you feel” – It is impossible to know how someone else feels and implying that you do know can be frustrating.
- “I would be devastated if you were gone”, whilst true, this is relaying your feelings, keep the conversation focused on them.
- “You have a lot to live for”: When someone is struggling with their mental health, they are not in the mindset of counting their blessings.
- “Other people have it worse” or “You’re being selfish” When a person is struggling, what is most important is helping them with their reality, not comparing it to others.
If you believe this is an emergency and they are likely to try and end their life in the immediate future then you need to call the police or take them to their nearest A&E. Do not worry, about wasting anyone’s times, or if it is the right thing to do, keeping them safe is the best option.
You can call the police on 999. The police have the resources to find vulnerable people, even if you have very little information about someone, with a name and a mobile number the police stand a good chance of being able to locate that person and taking them to the best place for them.
There are many places where support is available. We have listed these in our help and advice pages.
You can also look through our resources section.
Don’t forget, different people engage with different forms of help, so it’s important is that you find something that they will engage with.
We also have a handy download of apps that are available for mobile phones. (Coming soon)
Supporting someone who feels suicidal is emotionally and mentally draining. You may feel angry a whole array of emotions from fear, confusion, and anger at that person. This is perfectly normal, and support for you is available to, you must remember that to be able to look after someone else, you must be sure to look after yourself too.
Professionals call this debriefing and/or supervision, so it’s OK to ask to debrief with a professional about the disclosure and check out how you too can keep yourself mentally well.