When Someone Tells You They Are Suicidal
If someone tells you that they are suicidal, the following tips can help you open a dialogue with them and offer support in an appropriate and sensitive manner:
- Firstly, it is important that you try to stay calm and listen to the young person – hear them out. Avoid judgement, regardless of what’s going on. Suicide should always be taken seriously. Ask open questions to get an understanding of what is happening for them and how it is making them feel. Remember that, regardless of what has happened or your opinion on this, it is making a young person think about ending their life. So it’s important to listen and take them seriously.
- Don’t judge, offer platitudes (‘things will pick up’, ‘Life’s too short’ etc.) or try to fix everything. It has taken that young person a lot of courage to be open and honest with you, it is important that you take what they say seriously and without judgment. Also, empathic listening is key here – ask open and honest questions and show that you’re listening by reflecting on what they say and clarifying what they mean. Don’t jump in with solutions – allow them to express their problems first.
- Don’t minimalize their feelings by saying it’s ‘just a phase’, ‘you’ll grow out of it’ or ‘why is that even bothering you?’ Take time to imagine what it’s like for that person, focus on their feelings and their experiences – not your own.
- Give them space and time in the moment or, if they feel unable to speak at that time, acknowledge the importance of what they’ve said and arrange a time to talk. As hard and as painful as it might be to listen, you need to hear their reasons for wanting to die before you can focus on reasons for living.
- It’s absolutely okay to not know what to say! You’re a human being too and what you’re hearing might be terrifying for you, as well as the individual. If you don’t know what to say – be honest and tell that person. Reassure them that you are glad they told you – this can be far more empowering and genuine than making something up. If you’re honest with them, they’ll be honest with you.