Helping Someone Who Is Suicidal!

12 Jun Helping Someone Who Is Suicidal!

“I think someone I know might be suicidal. What do I do?”

Suicide is a complex, public health problem of global dimension with almost one million people annually dying from suicide world-wide. While there is no fool proof way to predict suicide, understanding how to support someone who may be suicidal, can be very helpful in initiating feelings of hopefulness and taking active steps towards obtaining the right kind of professional help.

People in suicidal crises require special attention. Some people might not seek help, not knowing what services or resources are available to them, whilst others may feel overwhelmed and find attending face-to-face sessions as too difficult. One of the biggest myths about suicide is that talking about it to a person encourages the act when in fact people who may be contemplating suicide often need to talk with someone about how they are feeling and what is going through their mind.

So what can you do to help someone who may be suicidal?

  • Encourage communication – Bottling up feelings may be as a result of shame, guilt or embarrassment. Being supportive and understanding without placing blame can make the person feel heard and hopeful. Lessening helplessness and instilling a feeling of hopefulness is important so avoid making the person feel as though their problems are not severe enough to warrant attention. If it’s important to them, then it should be acknowledged and understood.
  • Listen – often people feel suicidal when they feel there is no hope for their current situation and there is no one there for them. Listening attentively, without judgement and avoiding interruption, can allow individuals to process their feelings and thoughts in a safe manner.
  • Be direct –Don’t be afraid to ask questions to get information. As mentioned above, there is no evidence to suggest that talking with someone who might be suicidal, will result in them committing the act. So don’t be afraid to ask questions and get a sense of what is going on in their head. Some examples include:
    • How are you coping with your challenges?
    • Are you thinking of hurting yourself?
    • Are you thinking of dying?
    • That sounds like an awful lot for someone to take: has it made you think about killing yourself to escape?
    • Have you ever felt like just throwing it all away?
  • Be respectful – Acknowledge the person’s feeling. Don’t try to talk the person out of their feelings or express shock at what they are sharing with you. Furthermore, don’t be patronising or judgemental or try and minimise their thoughts and experiences. Allow the person to safely express how they are feeling, what their worries or concerns are and how they currently thinking about their life.
  • Offer support – Offer to help the person take steps to get assistance and support. For example, encourage consultation with a doctor or mental health provider or to call a Suicide hotline. Research treatment options, make phone calls or even offer to go with them to their first appointment.
  • Follow up – while you may not necessarily need to check in on the individual every day, reach out to them so they know that you are there for them and they can rely on you for support when they need to.

If someone says they are thinking of suicide or behaves in a way that makes you think they are suicidal, don’t play it down or ignore the situation. You’re not responsible for preventing someone from taking their own life but your intervention can help the person see that other options are available to stay safe and get treatment. Important resources to note are:

  1. Suicide Crisis Hotline: 0800 12 13 14
  2. South African Depression & Anxiety Group Helpline: 0800 567 567
  3. Lifeline South Africa: 0861 322 322


Turecki, P. G., & Brent, D. A. (2016). Suicide and suicidal behaviour. The Lancet, 387, 1227-1239

Written by: Stacey Rontiris, Head of Programmes, Counselling Psychologist, Tomorrow Trust

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