If you believe someone is thinking about ending their life, it’s natural to feel unsure, upset or even want to avoid thinking about it. However, there are a number of practical things you can do to help, that could even save a life.
Look out for warning signs
Signs to look out for that suggest someone might be at risk are:
- Talking about feeling hopeless and helpless, or being a burden
- Being socially isolated
- Having a recent loss — maybe a relationship, death or job
- Having made a previous suicide attempt
- Having a friend, family member or work colleague who has died by suicide
- Symptoms of a mental health issue getting worse
- Behaving in a risky manner – such as problematic alcohol or drug use or driving recklessly
- Giving away possessions
- Sudden, unexpected improvement in mood or seeming ‘at peace’.
Let them know you are concerned
- Choose a good time and place to have the conversation, ideally where you are both feeling calm and have plenty of time.
- Tell them what you have noticed that makes you worried about them. This shows that you care, and that you are there to help. You can also ask how they are going, but be prepared to follow up a “good” or "ok” with “How are you really? I want to know because I care”.
Ask if they are thinking about suicide
- Ask the question directly; “Are you having thoughts about suicide?” This might sound confronting, but it is important to be clear even though it might be uncomfortable.
- Remember, talking about suicide will not make a person take their own life or put ideas in the head. It provides the opportunity for someone to say how they’re really going.
- Listening without judgment can help reduce the shame they may feel about their suicidal thoughts.
- Try to understand what led them to feel that way. Saying things like “That sounds really tough” can show that you are listening and trying to understand the emotions they are going through.
- Don’t jump straight into problem solving, or convince them they shouldn’t have suicidal thoughts. This can feel dismissive.
Take action to get help now
- Tell them that there are other options than suicide.
- Don’t agree to keep their suicidal thoughts or plans a secret.
- Don’t assume they will get better without help or that they will seek help on their own.
Encourage them to get professional help
- Encourage them to make an appointment with a GP or a trusted mental health professional. Let them know they can take someone along for support if it helps.
- Or you can contact a mental health professional or employee assistance program, family member or friend on their behalf.
- Contact a specialist helpline for information and advice:
If they have made a plan to end their life
- Check if they are able to carry out this plan. Do they have a time, place or method of suicide in mind?
- Work with them if possible to dismantle this plan. Ask them how they could make their environment safe.
- Help them brainstorm reasons for staying alive and the people, activities and services they can connect with when they are struggling.
If you are worried about their safety right now
- If you can, remove access to objects they could use to hurt themselves.
- Contact the psychiatric emergency team by calling their local hospital.
- Or call 000 or take the person to the local emergency department. Tell them the person is suicidal, has made a plan, and you fear for their safety.
Take care of yourself
It can be emotionally demanding to support someone who is suicidal, so it’s important you try to keep yourself healthy.
- Find someone to talk things over with, like your family, friends a helpline or a mental health professional.
- Keep doing the things you enjoy and that relieve stress for you.
- It’s ok to have limits on what kind of support you provide and for how long.
SANE has developed a tool for family and friends of people who have suicidal thoughts or who have attempted suicide. You are not alone provides helpful information on supporting a loved one, yourself and understanding the services that support a person who has attempted suicide.
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
Lifeline (24-hour crisis telephone counselling) 13 11 14
Suicide Callback Service 1300 659 467
Call 000 for urgent medical attention or police attendance
Information and advice on mental illness
SANE counselling support is available online and on 1800 187 263, Monday to Friday 10am-10pm AEST/AEDT.
Related SANE resources
How to help in a crisis