When helping someone who may be feeling suicidal, you need to look after yourself too.

How to start a conversation with someone who is feeling suicidal

It can be distressing if you are worried about someone who feels suicidal. You might feel unsure about how to start a conversation with them or feel anxious about asking them if they feel suicidal.

Choose a good time and place to speak openly with them where it is quiet and there aren’t distractions. Use open questions to ask how they are feeling, and share your worries with them. For example: ‘How are you, I’ve noticed recently that you don’t seem quite yourself?’. Listen and be patient, allowing them time to open up and build trust with you. It is also important to avoid giving your personal view of what’s wrong or what they should do.

You could ask:

  • ‘Have you thought about ending your life?’ or
  • ‘Are you saying that you want to die?’

Evidence has shown that asking someone directly about suicide can protect them, as it gives them the chance to talk openly about how they feel and what they have been experiencing.

How to support someone who is feeling suicidal

Samaritans have created a helpful guide on how you can support someone experiencing thoughts and feelings of suicide. This guide includes tips on active listening when speaking with them, including showing you care, having patience, using open questions, and having courage to support them.

You can encourage the person you are concerned about to seek help and support from medical services. You can offer them emotional and practical support too, such as looking for information that might be helpful, and asking if they need help with any practical tasks. You could support someone by writing down self-help ideas for when they feel suicidal (such as who they can call in an emergency), how they can distract themselves using breathing techniques or engaging in their hobbies, and developing a support plan with them.

Looking after yourself

When supporting someone who is feeling suicidal, it is very important to look after yourself and your own safety and wellbeing.

After your conversations with them, make sure you rest and process what has happened. Remember that it is okay to decide that you are no longer able to help someone and instead empower them to seek support from professional services, or from other close family and friends.

MIND have a dedicated webpage with information on looking after yourself when supporting someone who is suicidal or struggling with their mental health.

Make sure that you look after your own physical and mental wellbeing by doing the things you enjoy, trying relaxation techniques to calm your mind and body, eating healthily and regularly, and getting enough sleep.

Be kind to yourself: it’s normal to feel helpless, sad, shocked, and frightened when someone you are close to says they are suicidal. There’s no right or wrong way to feel, but it’s important to seek support for yourself.

University resources and contacts

If you are struggling with your own feelings after supporting someone who is suicidal, you can call Samaritans on 116 123 to talk about how you are feeling and get support.

You can meet with the Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity Service at our Wellbeing Assessment Service or by emailing wellbeing@essex.ac.uk.

If you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself, or concerned for someone you know, you can call Papyrus on 0800 068 4141, or Samaritans on 116 123, for confidential advice and support.

During evenings and weekends, you can contact the 24-Hour Student Wellbeing Support Line on 0800 970 5020. You can also access our SilverCloud and Togetherall online support programmes at any time.