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How to have a conversation about suicide

Talking to someone you love about suicide isn't easy, but it could save their life. beyondblue shares their tips on how to approach it.

Father and son having a conversation about suicide

Talking to someone about suicide is hard, but it might be one of the most important conversations you’ll ever have. You don’t need to be a GP or nurse to check in with someone. If a person you know seems to be struggling, reaching out and letting them know you care could save their life.

Warning signs

If you’ve noticed a friend or loved one has been avoiding social situations, seems low or flat or just haven’t been themselves lately – it might be time to have a talk. Our partner, beyondblue has developed this chart of warning signs to look out for.

Make sure they’re comfortable

It can be overwhelming when someone you care about wants to harm themselves. It’s important to remember that by just having a talk and connecting with them, you can make a big difference. Make sure you choose a time and place where you can talk openly and easily, without getting interrupted.

Try to have the conversation at their place, or while doing something together (for example watching bad tv, cooking dinner, playing video games) – these comfortable environments will make it easier to talk. Having a chat while going for a walk or drive is also less intense than a face-to-face conversation.

Getting the conversation started

It can be awkward and a bit uncomfortable to get the conversation started, but try asking if they’re OK, share your concern or offer to listen to get things going. You can then ask the more serious questions to see how they’re really feeling. Here are some tips from beyondblue for carrying on the conversation.

  • Are you having thoughts about suicide? Be prepared for the answer to be yes. Take them seriously and acknowledge the reasons they want to end their own life.
  • Keep asking open ended questions, encouraging the conversation. How long have you been feeling this way? Have you felt this way before?
  • Make sure the person knows you’re here for them. Use non-verbal cues like eye contact, hand on their hand, nodding while they are talking.
  • Let the person know that lots of people think about suicide and that it’s OK to talk about feelings. You’re not alone, lots of people feel like this. Thank you for telling me. I’m glad you’re telling me how you feel.
  • Try to offer hope and suggest that people can find ways to get through tough times. I’m here, we can find a way to get through this.
  • Find out if they’ve made a plan. This is important. People who have made a plan are at more risk. Have you thought about how you would end your life? Have you thought about when you would end your life? If they are at immediate risk, call 000.

Safety planning

If the person you’re worried about is experiencing suicidal thoughts, safety planning can help get them through the difficult times. A safety plan is a structured plan someone can work through when experiencing suicidal thoughts, or crisis and can include items like a list of positive things in their life, music, and contacts to their support network.

The beyondblue BeyondNow app puts the safety plan in their pocket, so it is right there when they need it. You can also encourage your friend to send you a copy, so you can offer support through the tough times.

More information on suicide prevention and how to talk about it, can be found on beyondblue’s website. For more immediate support, you should contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the beyondblue Support Service on 1300 22 4636 (24 hours a day, seven days a week) or through chat and email at www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support (3pm-12am AEST).

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