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How to ask a young person if they are feeling suicidal

If you are concerned about a young person, trust your instinct and encourage them to talk to you. Talking about self destructive feelings and suicide does not make it more likely to happen, in fact it can and often does reduce the risk of suicide. Many young people feel really isolated with their thoughts of suicide and do not feel that they are able to tell anyone. Young people often tell us that they are worried about telling someone close to them that they are having suicidal thoughts. Young people mention many barriers for example;

  • Fear of the look on that persons face
  • Fear of worrying their parents/carer/friend
  • Fear of people taking over
  • Fear of not being listened to Fear of being judged
  • Fear of not being taken seriously

Asking a young person if they are feeling suicidal can often be a huge relief as it finally allows that young person to tell someone how they really feel. By asking a young person about suicide tells that young person that you are someone they can talk to, that you are not frightened of the subject. Asking and talking about suicide reduces the stigma and is often the first step in a young persons recovery.


When asking it is important to:

1. Stay as CALM as possible

2. Minimise distractions as must as possible.

3.Ask the person CLEARLY and confidently if they are thinking about suicide, for example

Are you having thoughts of suicide?

Are you thinking about taking your own life?

Are you thinking about killing yourself?

Asking questions that are not clear often leave people feeling unsure and are not helpful to anyone. For example:

Are you thinking of ending it?

Do you want to get away from it all?

For more information on how best to approach a conversation about suicide, see our conversation starters.

4. Once you have asked the question, allow the young person time to answer.

5. If they say ‘YES’, they have been having suicidal thoughts , REASSURE them that they have done the right thing by telling you. LISTEN to what they say. You do not have to have any answers. Listening in a non judgemental way, and understand what things are like for them is the most important thing you can do, and it shows that you care and want to know what they are going through. 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. 

6. If they say ‘NO’ then they know that you are a safe person they can come to if they are having thoughts of suicide in the future.

7.If they have already taken steps to take their own life, it is important to call 999 to get them emergency medical help or take them straight to A&E.

Be part of PAPYRUS    

Suicide is the biggest killer of young people - male and female - under 35 in the UK. Many thousands more attempt or contemplate suicide, harm themselves or suffer alone, afraid to speak openly about how they are feeling.

We are the national charity for the prevention of young suicide. We draw from the experience of many who have been touched personally by young suicide across the UK and speak on their behalf in our campaigns and in our work. We need more people who share our aims to join us to strengthen our voice - together we can save young lives.

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PAPYRUS will treat any information given here as confidential and will never use it for marketing purposes. We will store it and use it only to be able to contact our members and supporters and share information with them.

There are many reasons why people join us - for example, they may have been bereaved or affected by suicide in some way, have a professional interest in the area, or want to share their story and raise awareness.
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