On Blue Monday 2017 we launched #BraveFace, a social media campaign stressing the importance of talking openly about suicide and not being afraid to intervene and ask.
Many of us use social media to hide what we’re really feeling on the inside – it’s easier than ever before to put a ‘filter’ on your life and put out a ‘brave face’ to the world. But behind this mask thousands of young people are suffering – suffering which is not shared with or seen by those around them.
Remember that the image someone presents to the outside world may not reflect how they are feeling inside – they may be dying for help. Only by asking about suicide can you encourage someone to speak openly about how they are feeling. But how do you ask someone about suicide?
The first step is to recognise that somebody may be at risk. There is no definitive guide on how to know if somebody is thinking about suicide because anybody can be at risk. However, there are some things you can look out for.
Often people thinking about suicide will have experienced a stressful event associated with a feeling of loss. Events have different meanings and values to each person; always keep an open mind when hearing what is causing someone’s distress, and avoid making assumptions about how they may feel.
Unwittingly, people thinking about suicide give ‘invitations’, which we need to learn to recognise. In other words they are inviting us to ask them about suicide.
These may manifest themselves as changes in behaviour (self-harm, giving away possessions), the words they use (“I wish I wasn’t here”, “It doesn’t matter anymore”), physical indicators (sleep disturbance, weight loss), or they may display overwhelming feelings of anger, hopelessness, loneliness, or a sense of being ‘worthless’. Almost anything could be an invitation and it is always worth trusting your intuition. If you have an uneasy feeling something is not ok, use this to explore suicide with the person you are concerned about.
When asking about suicide it is important to do so clearly and directly, leaving no room for uncertainty. This can seem daunting and even scary, but the person needs you to ask about suicide, so they can share how they feel.
Asking ambiguous questions, such as “are you thinking about hurting yourself” may result in an ambiguous answer. By using the word suicide you are telling the young person that it is OK to talk openly about their thoughts of suicide with you.
Asking leading questions such as “You’re not thinking of doing something silly/stupid are you?” may send the message you will judge them if they are thinking of suicide and result in an dishonest answer.
Say “Are you thinking about suicide?” or “Are you thinking about ending your life?”, or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
Allow the young person time to answer. If they say ‘YES… I have been having suicidal thoughts’, REASSURE them that they have done the right thing by telling you. LISTEN to what they say.
It is important not to jump to trying to find a solution to what is causing the young person distress. Listening in a non-judgemental way and showing you are trying to understand what things are like for them are the most important things you can do. Showing them that you care and want to give them a chance to share what they are going through is so important. Do not make light of what they say and don’t try to change the subject .Just listen. Reassure them that you can look for support together, if they feel unable to do it alone.
If they have already taken steps to take their own life, it is important to either call 999 to get them emergency medical help or take them straight to A&E.
If they say ‘NO, I’m not thinking about suicide’, then they know that you are a safe person to come to if they think of suicide in the future. Many people worry that asking about suicide might put the idea into a person’s head, or offend or anger them in some way, however research indicates that asking does not increase the risk.
It is also unlikely that a person will be angry or offended, but relieved you have invited them to talk about how they are feeling. Many young people feel they are a burden or undeserving of support or will not be taken seriously. By asking the question, you are showing that you are ready to listen and will help them to access support. Not asking is too great a risk to take.
And you could save a young life.
Want some more advice on how to kick off a lifesaving conversation? Download our conversation starters.
For confidential advice and support on how to help a person at risk, or if you are thinking about suicide, speak with our professional advisers at HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039 967 or email firstname.lastname@example.org