How to talk to someone who is suicidal

How to offer support  

How to talk to someone who is suicidal 

 It can feel tricky to know what to say to someone you are worried about. Have a look at our suggestions below and see if they can help you have a difficult conversation and potentially help someone get support, change the way they are feeling and potentially save a life.  

Start the conversation

 If you are worried about someone and want to talk about their feelings, choose a place and time where they will feel safe and will be uninterrupted. Conversation starters can include…  

  1. “How are you?” or “Are you ok?” - if they provide a short answer or say they are fine follow with “Are you really ok?” or “How are you really?”
  2. “You don’t seem like yourself” - this statement shows that you care about them. It is important to show that you are concerned for them rather than upset with them for acting differently. 
  3. “Is everything ok at home/work/uni?” - a specific question can get the conversation started, but remember they may be upset/worried/stressed about a combination of things or nothing in particular. 

Ask them directly if they are suicidal: “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” 

Lots of people worry about saying the wrong thing, but just kindly saying, “I, noticed you don’t seem happy or I'm worried about you, are you having suicidal thoughts?” is a good place to start. The question will not suddenly make someone suicidal just by asking it.    Ensure that you do not sound judgemental when asking someone if they are having suicidal thoughts. For example, do not say “You’re not thinking of doing anything stupid, are you?” as this may close down communication.

Listen to the person without judgement

Whilst they are talking, stay with them and take them seriously as talking about their feelings will be a big relief. Do not interrupt the person or say phrases like “Your family would be so hurt if you died”, “Suicide is selfish”, “Suicide is wrong” and “We all have bad days”, as these are judgemental statements that may stop someone from opening up. It may be difficult but when someone is discussing suicidal thoughts, never promise to keep secrets, if they are in danger you may have to contact some further assistance without their permission.

Offer words of comfort and advice

Ask them if they have thought of ways that they can be supported and whether you can help. Assure them by saying: “with help, suicidal feelings will pass over time”. It may be useful to ask them to draw on past experiences by asking “Have you felt this way before?” and “What did you do to cope or get through it?”  

We know that people can and do feel differently in time and this is not a false hope to give someone. This is an important point to emphasise that they will not always feel like this.  

Encourage them to seek further support

Although it is a big step for a suicidal person to open up to you, encourage them to seek further support from friends, family or professionals that they trust. Suggest that they could contact their GP or the University of Exeter’s Wellbeing Services. The University wellbeing service where there are lots of resources which are both self-help and guidance from trained professionals. Get support here.

More resources for support  

Supporting someone in your life who is struggling with their mental health and having suicidal thoughts is not easy, so it is also important to look after your own welfare. ‘Mind’ have some great resources on how you can be supportive to others and supporting others to seek help.

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