How we can help

You may be able to identify that someone has suicidal thoughts and feelings. There are ways to help them.

  • Talk to them with a realistic attitude and compassion.
  • Make affirming statements.
  • Help them unlock the doors of their problems.
  • The three crucial elements in helping a suicidal person are Activity, Authority and Involvement.
  • There are places to go for help.
  • Counsellor Margaret Mourant suggests being tactful but definite and to show an interest.

Look, listen, consider.
If you suspect an individual is suicidal how do you support them?

Firstly talk to them about it. Show you care. Bring the issue out into the open.

Establish and maintain a trusting relationship.

Show a realistic attitude combined with genuine compassion and empathy.

Ask questions to obtain information about circumstances in the persons life and about their feelings and intentions. Have they formulated a plan? Could it be carried out?

If there is serious risk here, they may need to visit a GP and a hospital. (Info about options below.)

Caregiver/family/flatmates will need to commit themselves to keep the person under constant observation.

Make affirming statements like: "I'm glad you're talking to me. That's the right thing to do. I think we can work this out." Point out their strengths. Don't challenge them.

Help them identify a community of help and support around them. This means write down contact details for relatives, friends, groups to which they belong, community groups, churches, counsellors, doctors that they can phone or visit for support. Also introduce them to new people who can help support them.

Help them unlock the doors of their problems. Provide keys. To do this you will have to take a few hours to listen to them and then logically plan solutions or new direction.

Be clear and precise in communicating with a person who may be suicidal, because they may often be confused or in a state of chaotic feelings.

Three crucial elements in helping the suicidal person are:

Activity: The person needs to feel that something is being done for them right now. That someone will speak for them, act for them or provide direction for them.

Authority: The support person must act with confidence and authority, taking charge of the situation and insisting on other appropriate people becoming involved.

Involvement: If the person realises that others are now involved and caring for them, they will be likely to feel cared about and in most cases will respond.

Where do you go?

  • Friends - friendship, support and people that will listen is important
  • Groups to which they belong - may provide a network of help
  • A GP can find resources and make referrals effectively
  • Hospital - if you percieve an immediate strong risk of attempted suicide
  • Minister or a church - may provide a network of help or counsellors
  • Citizens Advice Bureau - they know of community groups, counsellors and other help
  • A phone counsellor - listed in the front of your local phone book. Try mental health listings
  • Visit a counsellor - make the urgency clear to the phone receptionist and ask for other options if they are fully booked
  • Phone a suicide prevention/support group - SPINZ, Yellow Ribbon and Project Hope will all talk to you and point you to ongoing help. See contact details in our organisations section.
What Do You Say? - Margaret Mourant's advice
Highly respected counsellor, Margaret Mourant, has some advice on talking about your suspicions to a suicidal friend:

Be tactful, but definite. The suicidal person will be glad that someone is taking an interest. Here is someone they can share their terrible thoughts with. If they are seriously suicidal later, they will know you are someone not afraid to talk about it.

If they tell you they are suicidal, what do you do then?
  • Let them share their feelings as much as possible. Don't try to talk them out of their feelings, or cheer them up. Try not to convey shock or anxiety
  • As they talk, try to estimate how seriously suicidal they are at the time. If their thoughts are obsessional, the risk is high. If they tell you they think of little else and have difficulty in concentrating on anything of present or future significance, then the risk is higher again. If they have thought out a plan and obtained the means to carry it out, the danger is acute
  • If they are not already doing so, encourage them strongly to seek professional help. If they are, then urge them to ask for a special appointment to talk about how they are feeling. If you are a relative, ask their permission to talk to the professional on their behalf, if they feel unable to do so
  • Try to reassure them that they will not always feel this way - that the black tunnel will come to an end. Reinforce any areas of hope in their lives
  • Try to get through to them how much other people in their lives would be hurt by their suicide. Sometimes they lose sight of this altogether. If there is love present, a person can find the motivation to keep going. At least for a while, for others' sake, when they could not do so for their own
  • Anger and a desire to hurt someone may be behind the pull to suicide. Behind anger there is often a lot of hurt, so help the person express their anger and sense of injustice. Try to get them to let these feelings out verbally, plan how they can let the person know how deeply they feel
  • Most suicidal people are helped if they can find some very small movement they can make to break the sense of helplessness
  • Try to make a "no-suicide contract" with them. This means asking for some kind of assurance that they will not take their life without first contacting you, or some other designated person first
  • Strange as it may seem, I (Margaret Mourant) have found that people generally honour these agreements. Perhaps it helps them to realise that people do care. That others beside themselves would be hurt by their self-destruction. Perhaps it just gives them something to hold on to. They can't promise to go on indefinitely, but they can hang on for limited periods. This is the way Alcoholics Anonymous and some other similar organisations operate - "one day at a time"
  • If they will not go to a doctor, try to encourage them to go to a counselling agency, or suicide prevention centre
  • Remember, you cannot keep someone else alive without their co-operation. Some people take too much on themselves. If you have taken the steps above, and remain friendly and warm, there is nothing else you can do. And you must accept that. Some people are determined and will take their lives whatever anyone does. We must never take responsibility for someone else. We have to leave them their free will
  • Suicide can leave a terrible aftermath. Some of the worst pain I have ever witnessed in anyone, has been that of the parents, or the spouse of someone, who has taken his or her own life
  • The act of suicide is a terrible, unanswerable last word. It leaves tormenting questions like: "Why?" "Was it my fault?" "Why didn't I know how terrible he was feeling?" What did say to me that I failed to hear?" "How did I let him down?" "If only..."

    It is often experienced as a bitter, humiliation and terrible isolation. Most people who are bereaved by suicide, need counselling help and ideally a time in a support group with others who have been through the same experience

Identify signs and symptoms.