PAPYRUS employees talk to people about suicide every day, however we don’t underestimate how hard approaching the topic can be, especially with those you are worried might be having suicidal thoughts.
Instigating conversations about suicide and mental health can be challenging, but they are necessary for preventing suicide and supporting those in need. If you are concerned about someone’s mental health or suicide risk, it’s important to know how to have this conversation in a supportive and non-judgmental way.
Below we have put together some tips for having a difficult conversation about suicide and mental health and supporting a loved one who may be in crisis:
Be prepared: Before sparking the conversation, we’d encourage you to gather information about resources available in your community, such as crisis helplines, mental health services, and support groups. Having this information handy can help you provide practical support and connect the person in need to help. Don’t forget, you can direct someone in crisis to HOPELINEUK, where our advisers can help callers focus on staying safe from suicide. It also offers a platform for concerned others to call and seek advice on how to start a conversation about suicide and explore options of how best to support those in need.
Find the right time and place: Choose a quiet, private and, if possible, relaxed location where you will not be interrupted, this could be at their home, going for a walk or drive, or doing an activity you enjoy together. Make sure you’re not on a timer and have no other commitments to attend to following the conversation – it’s possible this conversation may take some time and your friend or loved one needs to feel that you’re there for them and have the time to listen. We’d also advise that you carefully choose a time when the person you are concerned about is calm and not under any negative influences.
Use an empathetic approach: When talking to someone about their mental health or suicide risk, it’s important to approach the conversation with empathy and understanding. Try to see the situation from their perspective and validate their feelings. Use open-ended questions to encourage them to talk about their feelings and experiences. Some conversation starters might include:
“How are you?” – Be prepared for a “good” or “fine” at fist instance. However, don’t be scared to follow up with “how are you, really?”
“Is everything okay at home/school/work?” –Making the question specific can get the conversation started but remember that it might not be one thing. It might be a combination of many things, or maybe nothing in particular – just a general feeling.
“I’ve noticed you don’t seem yourself recently” – Making your loved one or friend aware that you have noticed something different about them shows them you care. It’s important that you let them know you’re concerned about them, rather than upset or angry at their change in behaviour.
“I’m feeling really stressed at the minute, how are you doing?” – Sometimes showcasing that life can be difficult for everyone and everyone struggles can be a good way to break the ice with these difficult conversations. By sharing things that you might be struggling with, it can help the other person feel more open to discuss their own troubles. However, be mindful that you don’t make the conversation all about yourself.
Listen actively: Active listening involves paying attention to what the person is saying, avoiding interruptions or trying to identify what they’re going through using your own experiences, and acknowledging their feelings. This helps to create a safe and supportive environment for the person to open up about their feelings and feel heard.
Avoid judgment: It’s so important that you avoid blaming, lecturing, or making assumptions about the person’s situation. People who are struggling with suicidal thoughts or their mental health may already feel ashamed or embarrassed about their feelings and it will have taken a significant amount of courage for them to open up to you. Avoiding judgement or dismissing what they’re saying will help the person feel heard and understood and encourage them to want to confide in you.
Offer support: Let the person know that you are there to support them and that they are not alone. Offer to help them connect with resources such as a crisis helpline or mental health professional, and if you feel comfortable to do so, let them know they can reach out to you when they’re struggling. You can also offer to accompany them to their appointments or support groups so that they don’t feel like they have to go through this time on their own.
Follow up: After the initial conversation, it’s important that you follow up and check in on the person’s wellbeing. Offer ongoing support and encouragement and let them know that you are always there to help. The first conversation is often the hardest, however the negative thoughts and feelings won’t go away simply because your friend or loved one has opened up, so checking in regularly ensures the person is reminded they’re not facing this alone and there are people who care while they seek professional help.
Having a difficult conversation about suicidal thoughts can be challenging, but it plays an important role in preventing suicide and supporting those in need. By approaching the conversation with empathy, active listening, and avoiding judgement, you can create a safe and supportive environment for your friend or loved one to talk about their feelings and experiences. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please reach out to HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 41 41 or speak with a mental health professional for help.
Remember, your words and actions can make a difference. Be kind, be understanding, and offer support.