Two hands holding out a flower
Two hands holding out a flower

What to do if someone you know is suicidal

This article is based on a piece that was  originally published on the Beyond Blue website. 

Life during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant many people are experiencing extreme distress for the first time. For others, it’s brought back negative feelings they’ve had before, or made existing feelings worse.

In some cases, this can lead to thoughts of suicide.

Tragically, suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15-44. If you’re worried someone you know is thinking about taking their own life, it’s important to start a conversation with them.

It’s a common misconception that asking someone if they’re thinking about suicide can put the idea in their head. This isn’t true. Instead, you’re reminding them they’re not alone and that there are supports out there to help.

The COVID-19 restrictions have made it more difficult to spot some warning signs of suicide. For example, many people are more isolated than they would usually be. Still, it’s important to check in on people you haven’t heard from or who seem particularly quiet.

Common warning signs

Suicide prevention starts with recognising the warning signs. Maybe your friend’s mood has been down for weeks and they’re giving their possessions away? Or a loved one is talking about death constantly? While the warning signs will vary for each person, below are some of the more common signs when it comes to suicide.

  • Social isolation or feeling alone
  • Aggression or irritability
  • Possessing or collecting lethal means
  • Feeling like a burden to others
  • Dramatic changes in mood and behaviour
  • Frequently talking about death
  • A history of suicidal behaviour
  • Engaging in 'risky' behaviours
  • Feeling like you don't belong
  • Giving things away
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Feeling trapped
  • Feeling worthless
  • A sense of hopelessness or no hope for the future

Starting a conversation

Even if you suspect someone might be suicidal, you might feel confused or scared about what to do next. 

Having a conversation about it can be hard, so how do you start?

The best way is to be honest about what you’ve noticed and how you feel: “You haven’t seemed yourself lately and I’m worried about you.”

Follow this up by assuring them you’re there for them: “I want to help you and I’m here if you want to talk.”

By learning about suicide and the language to use, you’ll feel more equipped for these hard conversations. The  Conversations Matter website is a useful resource on what to say/not to say when it comes to suicide.

Suicide safety planning

You can also encourage the person to create a  suicide safety plan.  This is a structured plan with strategies and supports they can work through when they’re feeling suicidal. They can do this alone or with a support person.

It’s important the person at risk has easy access to their safety plan. It can be done by using the BeyondNow app , the form on the  Beyond Blue website , or on a piece of paper. 

You don't have to be an expert

While it’s great to use these resources, it’s also important to recognise you don’t have to be an expert. You don’t need to have the answers or offer solutions to someone’s problems. It’s more important to ensure you’re being a  mindful listener.

Listening with empathy and without judgement is a great first step. Even the phrase, “I’m not sure what to say, but I’m glad you told me” can be helpful if someone says they feel suicidal. It’s good to acknowledge how hard things are for them, then help them get support.

If you’re really worried about someone, Lifeline provides crisis support and suicide prevention services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 13 11 14.

There is also the  Suicide Call Back Service  on 1300 659 467.

If you think someone is in immediate danger, call emergency services on triple zero (000) and stay with them until help arrives. 

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