Worried about someone else?
As a friend you are well placed to notice whether someone close to you is struggling to cope or even having suicidal thoughts. Life can be very complex with lots of demands and ups and downs. Often, major events in people’s lives can be a trigger for them to consider suicide.
The kinds of problems that can put a person at risk of suicide can include:
- A recent loss or break up of a relationship/marriage
- Dramatic change in circumstances
- Problems with work or money
- Mental or physical illnesses
- Living alone or having little social contact with other people
- Addiction or dependency on drugs or alcohol
- History of suicide attempts or self-harm
- History of suicide in the family or close friends
The reasons for someone to contemplate taking their own life can be very complex. It can be as a result of problems or worries building up to a point where they feel they cannot cope anymore and see no other option or way out.
People don’t have to have a mental health problem to think about suicide.
Signs to look out for
It is often difficult to identify whether someone is experiencing emotional distress, however knowing some of the signs to look for is a good start and can alert you to when a person may be in need of help. These can include:
- Continually lacking energy and enthusiasm
- Becoming anxious, irritable or confrontational
- Mood swings
- Acting recklessly
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Isolating themselves from others
- Not enjoying things they used to, always focusing on the negatives
- Having more problems with work or studies
- Using drugs or alcohol to cope with certain situations
- Not taking care of themselves or self-loving and hatred
- Discussing or mentioning suicide
Ways you can help
- Just listen, don't judge - Just listening is one of the most helpful things you can do. Avoid the temptation to try and change the subject or to list all of the 'positives' in the person's life. Just listen and try and see things from their point of view.
- Ask directly about suicide - asking is the right thing to do if you are worried about someone. Many people fear talking directly about suicide in case they 'give someone the idea', but there is no evidence that talking about suicide can be harmful - quite the opposite in fact. Evidence suggests that talking to someone, and asking the question directly, enables them to take stock and can diffuse a situation.
- These situations can be very difficult but some examples of
opening sentences for conversations could be as follows: “Are you ok? I’ve been feeling concerned about
“I have noticed some differences in you recently and I wondered how you are doing”
“I just wanted to check you’re feeling OK, and let you know that I’m here if you need to talk”
- If you think it is appropriate (eg if they mention family members or friends during conversation) encourage them to talk openly with someone close to them about their feelings.
- Hearing that someone is feeling suicidal can be shocking, but it won't help the situation if you panic.Try and stay calm and supportive.
- Ask if they have a plan for how they want to hurt themself. If the person has a specific plan and the means to carry out that plan and take their own life then they need urgent help.
- If you think someone needs urgent help then read more here. You could also encourage them to ring an emotional helpline like Samaritans on 116 123, or you could even ring on their behalf and ask someone to contact the person you are worried about.
- If you think they are not in immediate danger, but could still benefit from some support for low mood, anxiety or depression then talk to them about maybe accessing support from local steps2change service. They can access the service either via their GP or self-refer by using this link.
- For emotional support there are a range of national helplines available, find out more here.
- There are also a number of local support groups and activities which may help. Visit the Shine website for a list of local groups.
- Supporting someone who is suicidal can be shocking and distressing. Be mindful of your own wellbeing and talk to someone you trust about how it has made you feel.
Important things to remember when dealing with someone thinking about suicide
- Be alert - not everyone who thinks about suicide will tell someone about it, but if you feel concerned, look for the signs and use our conversation advice
- Be honest and open - tell the person how you feel and why you are concerned about them
- Be understanding - have an open mind before beginning to discuss suicide with someone, if you are willing to talk about it with them it will encourage them to feel comfortable enough to talk about it too
- Just listen, don’t judge - just listening and letting someone release tension and negativity can often help – it’s important not to judge or try to give advice
The Samaritans provide useful advice on active listening techniques, find out more here.
Help develop a safety plan
National mental health charity, Rethink have developed some useful factsheets about supporting someone with suicidal feelings and also suggest helping people develop a safety plan with suggestions for what they could do when they are struggling.
If in doubt, always seek help
You can see a GP for their opinion on what is the best way forward. If they are already seeing a mental health professional contact them for advice. People accessing local mental health services will have key contacts to speak to if they feel like they are struggling.
If you feel the person is in immediate serious danger to themselves then can call the NHS non-emergency helpline, 111. Or visit the accident emergency (A&E) department of your local hospital.