How to talk to somebody about suicide

Discussing suicidal thoughts may seem like a daunting prospect. Learn to shape these discussions with clear and practical advice.

Discussing suicide and talking about suicidal thoughts with someone you’re concerned about may seem like a daunting prospect. It can be hard to understand why they feel this way and what has led up to this point. You may feel uncomfortable and ask yourself, how can I talk to them about it? But it is important to start the conversation.

This resource is designed to help you shape these discussions.

Always allow the person the space to talk.

It is important to listen to the person’s struggles and feelings and let them know that you care about them.

A person who is thinking about taking their life is usually feeling overwhelming mental anguish and pain (this can be emotional, psychological or social). Allowing them the space and opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings can help a person thinking of suicide to feel supported. This is an opportunity to assist them in viewing other perspectives.

 

If you or someone you know is in immediate risk or if it is an emergency, please call 000.

 

Discussing suicide: How to start a conversation

It is important to ask the person directly if they are feeling suicidal or if they have been thinking about suicide.

It is a myth that talking directly about suicide will put the idea in someone’s head. Instead, discussing suicide openly and honestly about what you’ve noticed and genuinely asking how they are feeling can give the person the opportunity to take the first steps towards getting the help they need. You can’t make a person suicidal by showing you care.

Here are some ideas to help you start the conversation:

  • “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately, is everything ok with you?”
  • “I’m worried about you. I’m wondering if we can talk about what’s troubling you?”
  • “I saw your post on Facebook. Do you want to talk?”
  • “You seem really (down/sad/angry/unhappy) lately. I’m worried that you might be thinking of hurting yourself or suicide. Can we talk about this?”

It is important that you aren’t flippant or use slang words to describe suicide.

 

Expressing your concerns to a suicidal loved one

  • Let the person at risk of suicide know that you are concerned and that you care. Often, knowing another person cares enough to become involved and listen to them can be a great comfort to someone who is suicidal.
  • Let the person know that you have noticed a change in them. A change in physical appearance, behaviour and feelings or something that they have said that might have alerted you. See our suicide warning signs resource for what to look out for.
  • You can be specific about what the changes you have observed. For example:
    • “I’ve noticed you’re not eating your favourite foods anymore.”
    • “I noticed that you did not go to work this week.”
  • It is important to simply describe what you have observed rather than use words that convey judgment such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. If the person feels judged, they might feel embarrassed or withdraw.
  • Be honest and genuine in your concern.
  • You can ask the person directly if they are thinking of suicide. For example:
    • “Some people who (state back to them the changes that are observable) might start thinking of suicide. Is this something that is happening for you?”
    • “Are you considering suicide?”
  • You can also ask follow up questions, such as:
    • “How long have you been feeling this way?”
    • “How can I support you right now?”

 

Having expressed your concern and conveyed your support, keep the following in mind

  • Acknowledge that you understand that the person is experiencing a lot of pain at present.
  • Acknowledge that it must be frightening to feel this way.
  • Show respect and be as understanding as possible about their situation.
  • Maintain eye contact and open body language.
  • When discussing suicide, ensure you listen carefully to what they have to say. Use active listening techniques, such as paraphrasing what the person has said, reciting it back to them to ensure you understand them.
  • Avoid minimising or dismissing their problems, ensure they know you’re taking them seriously.
  • Avoid using statements such as “You don’t know how lucky you are” or “You shouldn’t feel like that.” These might sound to the person as though you are judging them and minimising how they are feeling.
  • Remind the person that although they may be having thoughts of suicide, they can choose not to act on them.
  • Offer realistic hope, it is possible for situations to improve or change for the better. It is likely that their problems weren’t created overnight, therefore the situation will probably take time to resolve. But their problem is resolvable through other means.
  • Provide reassurance that they are not alone, and you are there for them. You can say something like:
    • “I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and I want to help.”
  • If they are feeling suicidal, the next step is to support them to get professional help. For an overview of support options, see our Accessing Professional Support page.

Try to stay calm during the conversation. You may experience strong feelings like shock, guilt, anger or denial. But it’s important to stay calm, non-judgmental and in control of your thoughts, emotions and actions.

 

What if I think something is wrong but they insist they’re okay?

Continue to be observant for any warning signs of possible suicidal risk. Trust your instincts and follow through on any concerns or suspicions you have, don’t be afraid to check in with them again if you notice any suicide warning signs.

Ensure that those in the person’s support network know about your concerns and the changes you’ve noticed and are also looking out for any other warning signs.

Make yourself available and reassure the person that you will listen when they are ready to talk.

 

Should I keep their suicide plans to myself?

Whilst discussing suicide, if the person reveals that they are thinking of suicide and have a plan, it is critical that you seek professional help as soon as possible.

Don’t keep or agree to secrets that could result in the person attempting suicide. You are not an expert in mental health or suicide prevention, so you should not shoulder the burden alone.

It is important to be firm about your intentions to involve others if they won’t. Tell them that you are taking what they say very seriously and that you can’t keep this information to yourself.

Don’t try to deal with this situation alone, encourage the person to get professional help and support them to do so. It is a good idea to involve the suicidal person in this process as much as possible, as it is important for them to take an active role in resolving their suicidal crisis.

 

What if they don’t want to talk to a professional?

If the person doesn’t want to talk to a professional and their immediate risk is lower, work with them to identify other supports such as parents, family members, friends, teachers or colleagues.

It is important for the suicidal person to build support around them.

You can call a mental health service or helpline for support. Suicide Call Back Service counsellors talk to thousands of people who do not experience suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts) of their own but are affected by suicide. The service is available 24/7 and is staffed by professional counsellors. You can call 1300 659 467 for support.

Another important thing you can do to support someone who is feeling suicidal is to help them create a safety plan.

If they don’t agree to seek professional help and the immediate risk is high, you will need to contact emergency services on their behalf regardless of their wishes.

 

In an emergency

If you are with someone who is in immediate danger, or concerned for their safety in any way:

  • Call 000 and request an ambulance. Stay on the line, speak clearly, and be ready to answer the operator’s questions.
  • Visit your local hospital’s emergency department.
  • Do not put yourself in danger.

 

Get Help Now

 

If you are worried about someone, and need someone to talk to, call the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 to speak to a counsellor.

If it is an emergency, please call 000.

More from worried about someone

Learn about suicide warning signs

A person who is thinking about suicide may give some clues or suicide signs to those around them that indicate they are distressed. These are often referred to as suicide warning signs. Suicide prevention starts with recognising these suicidal warning signs and taking them seriously.

Read more

When someone is experiencing domestic violence

Domestic violence is when one person in a relationship hurts the other person. The violence and abuse can be physical, verbal, sexual, social, economic, spiritual and psychological. Understand what the signs of domestic violence are.

Read more

Supporting work colleagues

Take the time to support your work colleagues. They may be struggling, becoming withdrawn and not coping with their workload. If they are going through a tough time, there are a few things you can do to support them.

Read more

When someone is experiencing domestic violence

Domestic violence is when one person in a relationship hurts the other person. The violence and abuse can be physical, verbal, sexual, social, economic, spiritual and psychological. Understand what the signs of domestic violence are.

Read more

Supporting work colleagues

Take the time to support your work colleagues. They may be struggling, becoming withdrawn and not coping with their workload. If they are going through a tough time, there are a few things you can do to support them.

Read more