How to talk to someone who may be dealing with suicidal thoughts

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The conversation surrounding suicide and mental health is starting to get better as we see more examples in the media where people open up about their personal struggles.

Yet approaching the matter with someone who you suspect may be struggling is still a complex issue. Although a simple thing like a conversation can do someone a world of good, understanding how to discuss the topic and what to say is a valuable asset.

There were 6,859 registered suicides in the UK and Ireland in 2018, with the highest rate being amongst men aged 45-49, ​according to the Samaritans.

These are the signs that the Samaritans say that you should look out for:

- A change in routine, such as sleeping or eating less than normal.

- Lacking energy or appearing particularly tired.

- Drinking, smoking or using drugs more than usual.

- Finding it hard to cope with everyday things.

- Not wanting to do things they usually enjoy.

- Becoming withdrawn from friends and family – not wanting to talk or be with people.

- Appearing more tearful.

- Appearing restless, agitated, nervous, irritable.

- Putting themselves down in a serious or jokey way, for example, 'Oh, no one loves me', or 'I'm a waste of space'.

- Losing interest in their appearance, not liking or taking care of themselves or feeling they don't matter.

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but it can be hard for someone to open up to a friend.

With this in mind, here are a few tips you can use should you believe that a friend or loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Remember that everyone is different

Before you even approach someone who may be struggling with mental health issues, it's important to remember that people's problems are very complex and manifest themselves in different ways and it is never down to one thing.

Some people can struggle with suicidal thoughts for years while others may have never have considered suicide before deciding to take their own life. Others may appear to have rich and successful lives, but still struggle with things internally. No one person's situation is the same as any other.

Take this into consideration when reaching out to someone, and remember to consider why they are having troubles before jumping to conclusions.

Make time for them

This is the easiest thing that you can do for anyone who is suffering from depression.

They may reach out to you or it may take a message from you to get something organised but it's important that they don't feel like they are alone.

This helps them realise they are wanted and cared for by somebody, and that they aren't alone in the world.

They might not want to talk about what they are going through, but any distraction might be beneficial to them and, if they can begin to open up, then that could set them on the road to recovery.

Furthermore, they might not want to talk to you, but you could help identify someone that they are willing to talk to such as another friend or family member.

Don't share details

This should apply to a discussion in person or if you choose to share the details of a suicide on social media.

If you hear any details surrounding a suicide, even if it is a note that someone left it's best to refrain from sharing information like that.

Vivid or detailed imagery like this can sometimes put imagery into someone's mind, which isn't helpful.

Avoid trying to offer advice and instead, just listen

An easy pitfall in any situation where someone is trying to open up to you is to try to offer them advice.

In these moments a vulnerable person can just need someone to listen to their problem and understand what they are going through.

This doesn't mean that you should be afraid to ask any questions.

Something as simple as 'are you ok?' or 'how are you feeling?' can show some that you are interested in their wellbeing and begin the process of talking about what they are going through.

You can also share any problems that you may have had, which will help express empathy, and may help them realise that they aren't alone in having these thoughts.

Don't be afraid to ask someone if they are having suicidal thoughts. Although you should approach this question in a calm and considerate fashion, asking such a question is unlikely to provoke any suicidal thoughts or actions.

Focus on recovery

Whenever talking to someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts it's important to listen to their problems, but try to steer the focus of the conversation towards recovery.

All bouts of depression and suicidal crisis do pass and only tend to last a short amount of time for someone.

A study conducted by the NHS in 2016 found that one in five adults in the UK have thought about taking their own lives at some point and 50 per cent of people who have attempted suicide have sought help afterward.

If you can't quite find the right words to express this then there are always resources that you can recommend.

These range from websites, books, podcasts or even apps. Always remember that suicide isn't someone's inevitable fate.

Recommend phone lines and websites

Should they wish to talk to someone else who has experience in dealing with their issues then there are plenty of phone lines and services that you can recommend.




Switchboard LGBT helpline

Mental Health Foundation

CALM - Campaign Against Living Miserably

International Association for Suicide Prevention

Befrienders Worldwide

Advise they seek professional help

Alternatively, if they want to speak to someone face-to-face, there are always trained and professional counsellors available.

This isn't always an easy step for someone to take as talking to a stranger about emotional issues can be a bit daunting, but it does help highlight some problems they may have been unaware of.

Different counsellors and therapists offer different rates for their sessions but information about counsellors in your local area can be found on the Counselling Directory.

You can also speak to your GP and counselling services are available through the NHS.

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