If you’re worried about someone but haven’t told them about your concerns, start the conversation by letting them know you care. A simple expression of genuine concern is the first step towards making a connection and helping someone who is struggling. You can make a difference in the life of someone going through a tough time. Give yourself permission to say, I care, I will try my best to understand, and I will help.
Focus on what’s important. If you say the wrong thing, apologize and ask to start again. You are both trying to talk through a difficult experience. The most helpful words are those that help someone feel listened to, understood and hopeful that things can improve.
Here are some tips to help you have the conversation.
A decision to live is far more likely when your friend knows you are comfortable talking about suicide. Don’t hesitate to talk to someone you are worried about. The simple and yet profound first approach to any person with thoughts of suicide, should be, “let’s talk.”
Relationships are central to understanding and preventing suicide. Having a relationship in which a person with thoughts of suicide, can talk with a caring person counteracts the one consistently most dangerous risk factor: a feeling of being alone with thoughts of suicide. Your support may make all the difference. Raise the topic in a way that feels comfortable to you. There is no right or wrong way to say that you’re concerned. Just be genuine.
Explain why you are concerned. What have you noticed that has left you feeling worried about them? (their mood, the way they have been acting). They may not want to talk about it yet, but at least they know you care and are willing to have the conversation when they’re ready.
Ask About Suicide
- 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?
- 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.
- 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 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?
Sometimes the most important thing you can do, is to listen sympathetically while your friend talks about what is bothering her, allowing her to relieve the pressure of pent-up feelings. Make sure to listen without interrupting. We all wish to fix things for those we care about and often offer quick fixes to cope with our own feelings of helplessness.
Don’t shut down a conversation with words that downplay or invalidate your friend’s experience. Unsolicited advice, or trivializing comments, like ‘I know how you feel’ or ‘just get over it’, are never welcome. A simple acknowledgement of how difficult this must be, is the most helpful thing you could say. Life experiences or events that feel like overwhelming loss or pain, should be taken seriously. It’s important to acknowledge those concerns when they’re brought up, so a person doesn’t feel they aren’t being heard or are being misunderstood or ignored.
Keep Them Safe
Ask them to be honest about how you can help them. Taking initiative and doing small things to show you care can help. And, sometimes the most helpful thing, is doing an activity together that you both enjoy. Doing things, we love with those who enjoy our company, can help change the focus of negative thinking and offer a sense of hope for the future.
- Talk to your friend or loved one about the support they currently have. If they don’t have much, explore some options. Would you talk to your General Practitioner? Would you consider a counselor? Could we get online and see what information we can find?
- If they want to talk to someone now – your friend or loved one may need you to make the first appointment or you could stay with them while they call. Or you can call our LifeLine and Get Help Now. 800-273-8255 OR TEXT ‘273TALK’ TO 839863
- Make sure they’re safe. Some options to think about:
- Stay with them or get someone they trust to stay with them until they feel safer.
- Check that they can stay safe until an agreed time e.g. “I’ll call you at 8am tomorrow to check in”.
- Make sure they don’t have access to anything they can hurt themselves with (e.g. pills, weapons) and if they do, get rid of them