08 September, 2022

Supporting someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts or recovering from an attempt to take their own life can make a lifechanging impact.

Research suggests acknowledging and starting conversations about suicide may help to reduce suicidal ideation. Campaigns like R U OK? Day encourage us to have these conversations to reduce stigma and encourage help-seeking behaviour.

Relationship Counsellor Susan Iddon shares some advice on how to talk to someone who is suicidal, from how to start the conversation to what not to say.

For 24/7 crisis support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

For First Nations crisis support, call 13YARN on 13 92 76.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 000.


Starting the conversation

Suicide is a complex and sensitive issue, and a topic that is taboo in many cultures.

It’s normal to feel some discomfort around the topic, or to worry you’ll say the wrong thing. But talking respectfully about suicide can be an important way to support someone who is struggling. It provides an opportunity to talk honestly about how they’re feeling and to know they’re cared for.

You can start by raising the topic in a private setting when you’re both in a calm mood. Let them know you care about them and are there to listen without judgement.

“The best approach is to be open and curious about the person you are concerned about,” Susan explains.

“Ask them how they are. If you’ve noticed any changes, you can share what changes you have observed. Some people may have changes in behaviour that might indicate something is happening for them.”

You might also like to be prepared with contact information for possible support services.

“It’s normal to feel worried about how people will respond when raising the topic, so it’s important to know what supports are available for someone who may be feeling suicidal,” says Susan.


What NOT to say

While talking about suicide can be helpful, there are some approaches to the topic that may cause more harm than good. This includes being a ‘cheerleader’ or saying things that invalidate their feelings.

“Don’t say things like: It’s okay, you’ll get over it – most people do, or: Just be happy – there is so much to be happy about in life,” Susan advises.

While it may be tempting to jump into problem-solving mode, simply listening can be more helpful

“It’s not up to you to fix them, but to listen and guide them to the most helpful support for them in that moment,” explains Susan.

“If you feel they are at extreme risk, Lifeline have trained counsellors to assist people who are experiencing suicidal ideation and are the best to support them in that moment.”

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Most importantly, create a safe and judgement-free space for them to open up. Expressing judgement can cause guilt and shame and prevent them from trusting you in future.

“Most people just want to be heard,” Susan explains. “So reframe from any judgement of how they are feeling or what they are experiencing.”


Getting support

If someone is in crisis, you can help them to get support from mental health or emergency services. 

“Gently ask them if they have spoken to anyone about this,” Susan advises.

“If the answer is no, you can ask who they normally turn to for support.  Some people have a trusted GP, others may have a counsellor already that they can book an appointment with. Otherwise, Lifeline is a great support for people at risk of suicide.”

“It’s important to remember that there is help out there, and exploring what the best support is for that person is the best way to help them when they’re experiencing these feelings or thoughts.”

For 24/7 crisis support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

For First Nations crisis support, call 13YARN on 13 92 76.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 000.


Looking after yourself

It can be painful to watch someone we care about struggle with mental illness, and supporting someone who is struggling can take its toll. It’s important to look after your own mental health and wellbeing too.

If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to, our counsellors offer a safe space to explore your thoughts and feelings and find coping strategies that work for you.

You can learn more about our counselling service here, or call 1300 364 277 to make an appointment.