How To Sensitively Talk To Someone Having Suicidal Thoughts

It can feel incredibly tough to talk to someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, but it’s so important to have these conversations. We often worry about making the situation worse if we talk about it, but actually, we could just end up alienating that person by not talking about it. Language is a powerful tool, and the way we use it can have a huge impact on someone’s life. It’s important to use language sensitively when talking to someone about suicidal thoughts.

Suicide and having suicidal thoughts is often stigmatised. People are often afraid to talk about it, but that’s the best way to remove the stigma.

I have felt suicidal in the past, and the people around me have been scared and confused as to what they can do and how they should help. It doesn’t have to be complicated. I’ve spoken to close family and friends about how to talk to me when I might be suicidal, and I wanted to share here what helps me.

Active Listening

You don’t have to be an expert to talk to someone experiencing suicidal feelings. Active listening is a good place to start. It’s all about giving the person space to talk, without interruption. When it’s your turn to listen, don’t spend the time planning what to say next. You can’t rehearse and listen at the same time. Think only about what the other person is saying. Don’t jump in with advice, instead listen and really hear what they’re saying about their feelings and emotions. Be nonjudgemental – because only they know the thoughts and feelings and you can only find out what they are by listening. Wait for them to pause, before asking questions, and those questions should be just to clarify what’s been said. So really you could call it being a sensitive listener.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Using the correct terms around suicide shows you’re compassionate and understanding. If you use the word ‘commit’ you’re suggesting it’s a crime. Suicide in the UK hasn’t been illegal since 1961. If someone has heard you using this term, they might be less willing to open up about their thoughts when they’re struggling. Instead use terms such as ‘died by suicide’ or ‘took their own life.’ Showing you’ve changed your language shows you’re willing to be there and listen.

Don’t Avoid The Subject

You don’t have to give advice when someone opens up to you, so don’t be afraid of talking to someone about suicide. You can point them in the direction of help – whether that’s helpline numbers, their mental health team, or calling the emergency number. You can help them by taking them to an appointment, or to A&E, if it’s an emergency. We often worry talking will trigger someone into doing something drastic, but having a listening ear and someone to talk to maybe just what they need.

Show you care by showing empathy. Empathy is about even if you’ve never experienced what they’re going through, you can appreciate the way they feel. Try not to share your own experiences, instead, ask them questions that give them the opportunity to be honest. It’ll encourage them to think about their thoughts and feelings in a way they never have before.

Remember – not to speculate about suicide you may have read about in the news, especially if it’s about the method. This can be triggering for people that may be struggling with difficult, intrusive thoughts.

If you are in crisis and are concerned for your own, or someone else’s safety, call 999 or go to A&E

Samaritans – 116 123 or email The Samaritans are available 24/7 and are completely anonymous.

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