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When someone you care about is experiencing poor mental health, it’s natural to worry. You may be concerned about self-harm or suicidal thoughts but it’s worth remembering that most people with a mental health issue are not actively suicidal.

If you are worried that someone may be thinking about suicide, it’s important that you know what to do and can help them get the right support.

Young man looking down

What to look out for

There is no single reason that someone might decide to take their own life. Suicide is a complex issue that can be influenced by many things. That said, there are some circumstances that put people at particular risk, including:

  • Distressing changes in circumstances e.g. relationship breakdown, loss of a job
  • Heavy use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • History of suicide attempts
  • Long-term physical pain or illness
  • Loss of a friend or loved one to suicide

Changes in behaviour can also be indicators that someone is thinking about suicide. Things to look out for include:

  • Talking about suicide, feelings of hopelessness or a lack of purpose
  • Becoming withdrawn from friends and family
  • Losing interest in things and taking less care over their appearance
  • Misusing drugs or alcohol
  • Sleeping a lot or very little
  • Appearing tearful or finding it hard to cope
  • Experiencing sudden mood swings
  • Being restless or agitated

These signs don’t necessarily mean someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts and it’s also possible that someone could be considering suicide without showing any outward signs. If you’re concerned, it’s always best to seek help.

What can you do?

You may feel very nervous about talking to someone you’re worried about but it’s important to remember that talking about suicide does not make it more likely. Often people who are thinking about suicide want to talk to someone but don’t know how to start. Asking someone how they’re doing can make a big difference.

  1. Listen – you don’t have to have all the answers to your friend or loved one’s problems. In fact it’s often more helpful to just listen.
  2. It’s ok to ask questions - you might be worried that asking questions might make them feel worse but people often find it helpful to talk to someone. It’s ok to ask if they are feeling suicidal or if they self-harm. Try to listen and ask open questions that help the person talk e.g.‘how do you feel?’ 'what happened?’ Samaritans have more advice on starting a difficult conversation.
  3. Offer support – let the person know that you care and check that they know how to access help. You could also offer to help them speak to someone by visiting their GP with them or contacting a service on their behalf. There are a number of options of support available for people experiencing a mental health crisis.
  4. Don’t keep it a secret – don’t promise to keep someone’s plans or suicidal thoughts a secret. And even if you say you won’t tell anyone, it’s ok to change your mind. If the person does not want to access support, speak to someone who you think may be able to convince them, like a parent or teacher, or contact the Samaritans on 116 123.
  5. Look after yourself – these kinds of conversations can be upsetting and it’s important you look after yourself too. If you need to talk about what’s happened, do. Our friendly team at Pause is always here to lend a listening ear.