What if they say yes?

Stay calm and listen to that person. It takes a lot of courage to open up about feeling suicidal and when someone expresses suicidal thoughts they should always be taken seriously. This conversation needs to focus on helping the person stay safe for now, to press pause on doing anything that is irreversible. Your personal views of suicide are not relevant so please put those to one side.

Avoid phrases that belittle or undermine how they are feeling such as “you shouldn’t care about that” or “you’ll get over it”. Keep the focus on them and try to be empathetic. Try to imagine what it is like for them and focus on their thoughts and feelings instead of your own. Don’t rush to fill silent pauses, instead, give them the chance to expand on what they are saying. If you do reach a point where they have nothing else to say, it is time to consider what needs to happen next.

This will very much be determined by your relationship with them, the time of day or night, and whether they are sharing that they are feeling like they can’t go on, or if they have a plan and the means to kill themselves.

If you believe this is an emergency and they are likely to try and kill themselves in the immediate future. then you need to call the police or take them to their GP or A&E. People often worry that this is a waste of NHS time and resources but taking them yourself, or calling an ambulance to take them to the nearest A&E is the correct thing to do.

You can also call the police on 999 if there is an immediate threat to life.

If it’s not a clear emergency and you are a friend, acquaintance, or perhaps a passer-by, you may need to consider helping them identify someone else they trust who you can contact, this person may already be supporting them – a friend, relative or health professional. You can support them to call or by calling for them.

Non-judgemental listening can be invaluable. Whilst positive thinking has a role to play in well-being and happiness, offering positive quotes, platitudes, or ‘pick me up’ sayings will be a lot less helpful than you might think at this point. Instead, repeat phrases they use to reflect on and clarify what they mean, giving them the time they need to say everything they want to. Allow them to fully describe and explain everything that has happened and how they are feeling. Things that may seem really small to you may be having a big impact on them so be patient and understanding.

Be honest. If you’re terrified and you have no idea what to say, that’s absolutely okay! This isn’t just scary for them, it’s scary for you too and you can tell them that. You’ll need to acknowledge the importance of what they’ve said and be positive that they’ve chosen to talk to you about how they’re feeling. Being honest about the fact that you don’t know what to say or do, but reassuring them that you are glad they were honest with you, means you will continue to build trust. With that trust, together you can start looking at what you do next.

By attending our suicide prevention training, you will learn the skills and process to create a Safe Plan with someone experiencing suicidal thoughts. A Safe Plan isn’t a plan for how someone rids themselves of thoughts of suicide, it helps them look at how they can stay safe right now and in the coming hours and days so that they have the chance to access support for whatever is causing them so much distress today.

Find out more about our suicide prevention training here.