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How to talk to a friend who is feeling suicidal

Practical things you can do to support a friend who is feeling suicidal


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health


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It can be frightening when a friend or family member is feeling suicidal. Talking about suicide can be difficult for the person who is struggling and for the person who is trying to help. It's okay to acknowledge that this is a difficult subject to talk about for both of you.

If you are concerned about someone, trust your instinct and encourage them to talk to you. It's best not to hesitate. Be open and tell them your concerns. 

If a friend confides in you that they are suicidal, you don't need to take this on alone. Speak to someone you trust about what's going on, or contact a support service. Keeping it a secret will not help your friend - it's important to reach out and ask for help. 

In this article:

How do I know if someone is feeling suicidal?

The only way to know for certain that someone is feeling suicidal is to ask them. However, there are a few signs that might indicate that someone is thinking of taking their own life, including talking about suicide, withdrawing from friends and family, or feelings of hopelessness. Click here to find out what signs to look out for if you think someone might be suicidal.​

There are also a number of risk factors that could make it more likely that a person would consider suicide. Many people who die by suicide suffer from mental health difficulties, but this is not always the case. Sometimes a period of great change in their life or suffering a loss could also contribute to suicidal feelings. When people know someone in the community, school, or family who has died by suicide, they may consider dying by suicide too. Learn more about the risk factors that contribute to suicide here.

How to start a conversation about suicide

Thoughts of suicide are extremely isolating so the person may feel extremely alone and afraid to tell anyone. Talking about suicide does not make it any more likely to happen, and you will not put the idea into their head just by asking them. Asking someone if they are feeling suicidal can often be a huge relief for them as it can often feel like a weight has been lifted from them. Simply by asking about suicide you are showing that person that you care about them and want to help.

Read more on how to talk to a friend when you're worried about their mental health here.

Stay calm

Stay as calm as possible and support your friend without judging them. Avoid getting angry with them if they aren't ready to talk. Instead, be patient and emphasise that whenever they are ready, you will be there for them.

Ask them

Ask the person clearly and confidently if they are thinking about suicide. Some ways you might start this conversation openly: 

  • Are you having thoughts of suicide?
  • Are you thinking about taking your own life?
  • Are you thinking of killing yourself?

Try to keep the questions as open as possible so they are easily answered. Try also to make sure your question is clear and direct.

Let them know you are there for them

Let them know that you are ready to help them or keep them company if they need it.

Use phrases like these to reassure them that you want to help:

  • I'm worried about you and I want to help
  • Whatever you are dealing with, we'll go through this together
  • Suicide is not the only option, and I will help you find the support you need

Listen carefully

Listen carefully in a non-judgmental way to what they say. Give them the space to speak without you interrupting them

You do not have to have all the answers but listening in a non-judgmental way shows that you care and want to help.

Learn more about how to be a good listener here.

Reassure them

Reassure them that help is available and that there are organisations like Pieta House who have a helpline with trained psychologists and therapists to talk to. You can also ask your friend if they will allow you to make an appointment for them to see a psychologist, free of charge. You can offer to go with them to their appointment for support

You could also encourage them to see their GP. If there is an emergency, you can accompany them to A&E and let them know you will be with them the whole time. Find out more about accompanying a friend to a support service here.

What if they say they don't think about suicide?

If they say that they do not have thoughts of suicide, then they know that you are a safe person they can come to talk to in the future. If they have already taken steps to end their own life it’s important to call 999 or 112 immediately to get them medical attention, or take them straight to A&E.

Your friend may be experiencing a deep depression, or engaging in self harm. Read more on depression and self harm.

What can I do if someone doesn’t want my help?

It can be difficult if you feel that someone you care about is in a bad place but won’t reach out for help or take the help that you have offered them. This can be frustrating for all involved but it’s important that you remember that there are limits to the help that you can offer.

Remember that there is only so much you can do, and try not to beat yourself up about it. Be patient: it may take a while for them to open up and feel comfortable talking with you. Tell them that you are there for them when they are ready to seek help. If you are worried about the person, it may be time to contact a family member and tell them your concerns.

Helping someone who is suicidal

Before you read this, please ensure you have read the earlier points in the article too.

  • Ask them if they have planned how they would hurt themselves, and remove access to any means of suicide or self harm
  • Ask them if they are attending a mental health service, and ask for the contact details of their team
  • Contact emergency services immediately by ringing 999 or 112, or accompany them to the nearest A&E department
  • Stay with them until they receive help. While you are waiting for emergency services to respond, stay with them until they are tended to

Your friend may be in such a state of distress that they may not see the point in getting help or may be scared of what that will mean. In this case, your priority is to ensure the safety of your friend even if it means going against their wishes (by phoning their GP or 999 or 112). This can be a hard thing to do because you may worry that this could affect your relationship. However, chances are that down the road your friend will thank you for it.

How can I look after myself?

Providing support to someone else can be draining and exhausting leaving you feeling totally zapped of energy. It is important to mind yourself and be aware of the impact on your own mental wellbeing.

Talk to someone you trust

Even if your friend has asked you not to tell anyone, it is important that you talk to a professional so that your friend can get the support that is needed. 

It's also really important that you talk to someone about how you are feeling. Remember to look after your own mental health too.

Know your limits

Be realistic about what support you can offer and try not to take too much on. Remember that nobody is fully responsible for another person's life.

Do what you can to help, and reach out to others who can help you support your friend such as their family member, a mental health professional, a teacher, or another trusted friend.

Take a break

Make time to take a break from what is going on for your friend and try to practice some self care.

Find something you can do that relaxes you and helps to take your mind away from what is going on. You deserve to make time for yourself.

For more information on supporting a friend, read our articles on helping a friend with depression, tips for being a good listener, and conversation starters on mental health.

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Published September 29th, 2015
Last updated September 3rd, 2018
Tags mental health suicide listening is helping
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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