The simple answer is no. Whilst it might be a difficult question to ask and an uncomfortable conversation that follows, it is so important that you ask the direct question: “Are you thinking of suicide?”. By being direct you are showing that person that you care, you are there to support them and want to know how they are feeling. It gives that person ‘permission’ to talk about suicidal feelings if they are present and shows them you want a genuine answer even if the answer is yes. If you have any concerns or worries, best practice is clear, always ask if they are considering suicide. Research shows that this can actually reduce the risk of a young person ending their life. If you are mistaken, the worst that will happen is an awkward conversation, but at least that person will now know you are someone they can come and talk to about suicide should they ever need to.
If there have been behaviours, actions or language that worry you, the first thing to do is to make some time to talk to them. Once you have agreed a time and a suitable place you should:
Tell – tell them you are worried about them and explain why in a non-accusatory way.
Ask – ask them directly if they have/haven’t had thoughts of suicide.
Listen – listen to their answers, don’t speak to fill silence or rush them to reply.
Keep safe – look at what you can do to keep them safe e.g. take them to A&E, ensure they are in a safe location, stay with them till professional help can be accessed.
Feeling suicidal can be incredibly scary, lonely and overwhelming and you may have many questions. Many of these questions will have been asked before so PAPYRUS has put together an FAQ section for if you’re feeling suicidal.
No. Whilst thoughts about suicide can be linked to living with a mental illness, it doesn’t mean you have to have a mental illness. Research indicates that up to one in four young people will consider suicide at some point. Most people have thought of suicide from time to time and not all people who die by suicide have mental illness at the time of death. More research is coming to light that indicates that many of youth suicides are completely spontaneous and not linked to mental illness, but instead emotional crisis. Emotional crisis tends to be triggered by poor mental health. What we mean by that is a person does not have efficient coping strategies or they are unable to utilise problem solving skills to overcome the obstacles between themselves and their goals. Feeling overwhelmed by several problems that you cannot solve with the current tools available to you can lead someone to emotional crisis and consider suicide as a spontaneous solution.
Although it is important to remember that all individuals are different, and that suicide can affect anyone, regardless of age, race or gender, statistics show that in the UK men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women and suicide is currently the biggest killer in young people and males under fifty.
Be clear, concise and use the word suicide so that you both are clear that it is suicide you are talking about. Don’t be afraid of using the term and ask about suicide directly.
No. It is down to individuals such as parents and schools to decide when is the appropriate age to talk about suicide with children. Regardless of the age, if a child has been directly exposed to suicide it is vital someone sits down with them to discuss it. A significant risk factor of attempting suicide is previous exposure; therefore the subject should be approached in an age appropriate manner using clear language relatable to the age group. See our Frames of reference section for more details
Changes in their normal behaviour. Things they may do or say that worry you added to things you may know about their circumstances e.g. bereavement, loss of job, relationship issues. As everyone is an individual it’s about being aware of changes in the person you know.
People who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and feelings can often feel overwhelmed making every day tasks such as going to work very challenging. Although you may find it difficult, it is important to be honest with your workplace about how you are feeling. Have a look at The Muse’s guide on how to talk to your boss about your mental health here.
Mental health is something we all have, just in the same way that we all have physical health. Mental illness is something that many people experience but not all, just in the same way as some experience physical illness and some don’t. You can read more about the differences here.