Around 20% of people in the UK experience suicidal thoughts at some point in their lifetime. So you may well encounter someone who’s feeling suicidal at some point. It can be hard to know what to do in that situation. It can be distressing and we worry about saying or doing the right things. Nobody teaches us what to do when encountering a suicidal person – it’s not something we learn in school.
Suicide Doesn’t Discriminate
Absolutely anyone can experience suicidal thoughts. It doesn’t matter how old someone is, how many friends they have, how good their job is, or anything else. Suicidal thoughts can happen to anyone.
You Can Help
Being suicidal doesn’t necessarily mean that somebody wants to die. Most suicidal crises are time-limited. 75% of people who attempt suicide will visit a medical professional within three months of their attempt. Eight out of ten people who take their own lives give warning signs of their suicidal intentions. Talking to a person about their suicidal feelings can reduce their anxieties and act as a deterrent. Talking to someone about their suicidal feelings can help.
How Do You Know We’re Suicidal?
There are a number of signs that a person might be suicidal. We may express intent to hurt ourselves. We may talk or write about death or suicide. You may notice we appear hopeless and have no sense of purpose in life. At times we can be angry or act recklessly. We might withdraw from people. Our mood might change – it might even improve a little. We can appear anxious and agitated. We might say goodbye or start giving our belongings away.
If we’re suicidal we might show one of these signs, we might show many these signs. We might show other signs that aren’t on this list.
Speak To Us Directly
If you think that we might be having suicidal thoughts, you can ask us about them directly. It doesn’t encourage us to go through with our plans, it just shows us that you care. Try not to ask us in a judgemental way – avoid saying things like ‘you’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?’. Just be direct – ask us if we’re having thoughts of suicide.
It can be hard for us to talk about our suicidal thoughts and feelings. We might initially be reluctant to talk about our thoughts, or deny them. But just continue to show us that you care and that you are there for us.
Assess The Risk
Suicidal thoughts are not a way of attention seeking. All thoughts of suicide should be taken seriously. Try to find out whether we have a plan, the means to carry the plan out, a time set, and the intention to do it.
We’re more likely to complete suicide if we’ve attempted in the past, if we self-harm, or if we do a lot of risk-taking behaviour.
Finding out what support the we have can also help when assessing our risk. Someone who has a limited support system is more likely to complete suicide.
If a suicide attempt is imminent then it’s important to call 999 or accompany us to A&E.
Talking To Someone Who Is Suicidal
The most important thing when talking to someone who is suicidal is to genuinely care. You don’t need to worry about getting all of the words exactly right. You just need to be supportive, understanding, and give us your undivided attention. Ask us about our thoughts and feelings. Give us the time and space to talk. Try not to rush us or become impatient. Try not to minimise or invalidate our feelings. Actively listen to us – ask open-ended questions and try not to interrupt us or argue with us.
Keeping Us Safe
If we are actively suicidal, try not to leave us alone. Try to work with us. Reassure us that no problem is insurmountable. Focus on the positive things, the things that keep us safe. If we need more support than you can give us at that time, ring 999 or accompany us to A&E.
Developing A Safety Plan
It can be helpful to try and develop a bit of a plan to keep us safe. Have a think about what we can positively do.
Have a think about how our friends and family can support us, contacting our GP, the things that have helped in the past, and who we can contact in an emergency.
If we are in a place where we feel able to do it, you could help us to develop a crisis plan. It might be helpful to make a few copies of the crisis plan – one for each person supporting us.
Being there for a suicidal person is an amazing thing to do. But, you are not a professional and if we are having suicidal thoughts, we need professional help. Encourage us to get professional help. There are lots of treatment options available. If we aren’t under a mental health team then our GP is a good place to start.
Never Put Yourself In Danger
Although those with mental health problems are more likely to be victims of violence than to initiate it, there are times when someone who is suicidal might be violent. We might be extremely distressed. We could have a weapon. At times like this the best thing to do is to call the police.
Never Make A Promise You Can’t Keep
Never promise to keep our suicidal thoughts a secret. Explain to us that you can’t keep it a secret, because it’s not safe. We might be angry or upset and feel betrayed, but once we are feeling better we will usually understand. It’s much better for us to be angry and receiving help than it would be for us to complete suicide.
If We’ve Acted
If we’ve acted on our thoughts, you need to administer first aid and call and ambulance or accompany us to A&E. There may be times when we have self-harmed without suicidal intent. In these situations we would still need first aid.
If You Are Not There
If you are worried about us but we aren’t with you, it is possible to do a police welfare check. You can ring the police in our area and request a police welfare check. The police will ask you for details of the situation and are able to check in on people who are at risk.
You Can Support You Can’t Rescue
You can offer a suicidal person support, but you are not responsible for their actions. Anything they do or do not do is not is not your fault.
Look After Yourself
Coping with suicide can be very emotionally draining. It’s important to look after yourself as well as being there for others. Have someone who you can ‘debrief’ with, and cry on if you need to. If you need mental health support then visit your GP or contact your mental health team if you are under one.
Remember, There Is Help Out There
There are lots of different treatment options available for depression. There are a number of crisis lines available. If a person is in immediate danger it’s important to go to A&E or ring 999. Please remember, whatever is going on, you are never, ever alone.
- Sane Charity provide crisis support between 4.30pm and 10.30pm 365 days a year on 0300 304 7000.
- The Samaritans provide 24 hour confidential emotional support. It is also free to call them and their number won’t appear on your telephone bill 116 123.
- If you can’t talk, IMAlive offer an online crisis intervention service.
- If don’t feel safe and are worried about an immediate risk of harm, please call 999 and ask for the police or ambulance service.
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