Talking about suicide

Talking about suicide is not something any of us expect to do and it can feel scary. If you are concerned about someone, either because of their behaviour, actions or words, or perhaps your gut instinct tells you something is wrong, it’s always best to share your concerns and ask them directly:

I’ve noticed [how hopeless you say it all is (for example)] and I am concerned you may be thinking of hurting yourself and so I need to ask, are you thinking of taking your life?

By saying what you have noticed, it makes it harder for them to deny something is off. Asking the direct question about suicide suggests you are willing to have this conversation, you are not scared to talk about suicide and, more practically, ensures there is no confusion; they will understand you are asking them about suicide and nothing else. Often, just feeling able to share their feelings about suicide can bring someone great relief.

For years people have worried that asking someone about suicide will ‘put the idea in their head’. This is a common but false assumption. If someone is not thinking about suicide, you suggesting that you are worried they might be WILL NOT plant a seed. However, if they are suicidal and you don’t ask, you may be confirming their belief that nobody sees them and nobody cares. If you ask the question and they are not, all you have done is demonstrate that you are someone they can come to talk to about suicide if they ever find themselves experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings. You can learn more about the language that supports these conversations in our training session, Talk Safe.

Talking about suicide is a difficult but necessary conversation when you’re concerned about someone’s well-being. It may feel intimidating, but addressing the issue directly is crucial. If you’ve observed troubling signs in someone’s behaviour, words or actions, or if your intuition suggests something is amiss, it’s best to express your concerns openly.

There are three scenarios when you would not ask if someone is suicidal: if they are experiencing a psychotic episode, using recreational drugs or using alcohol.

If your enquiry reveals that they are not currently considering suicide, you’ve still achieved something important. You’ve shown that you are a safe and compassionate person they can turn to if they ever do experience such thoughts or feelings.

Remember that addressing suicide requires sensitivity and empathy. If you’re unsure about how to approach this conversation, consider seeking guidance or training in suicide prevention, such as our training sessions, Talk Safe and Plan Safe, to learn more effective ways to support those in suicidal crisis. Ultimately, your willingness to initiate this difficult conversation could make a significant difference in someone’s life.