How to help someone who is suicidal

When someone is in a crisis situation and cannot see the way out, they may consider taking their own life because they can’t tolerate their suffering anymore. Its important for friends and family members to be able to identify the warning signs that someone is suicidal and know what actions to take to assist them.   

Warning signs

A major change or shift in the person’s circumstances

Loss of a job, loss of a relationship, the death of a loved one, financial problems or a major personal disappointment may cause some individuals to lose hope. Mental illness including depression and anxiety can also contribute to the likelihood that an individual will consider suicide.

Feeling there is no way out

This often manifests in feelings like worthlessness, loss of purpose, depression, moodiness, anger, irritability, hopelessness and a sense of being trapped with no way out. If a person describes these feelings to you, don’t ignore them. Enquire further about what they are going through and whether they have thought about suicide.

Outward indicators

These may include:

  • withdrawal and isolation from family and friends
  • agitation, anxiety, difficulty concentrating or sleeping
  • loss of interest in things previously enjoyed by the individual
  • talking about death or suicide, even as a joke
  • increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • High-risk behaviour
  • deterioration in personal care and appearance
  • saying goodbye and giving away their possessions
  • seeking access to medication, weapons or vehicles to harm themselves

What to do when someone is suicidal

Talk

One of the most effective things you can do is to connect with the suicidal individual.  Talk to them kindly and calmly. Ask them directly whether they are considering, or have considered, suicide. This shows the individual that you care and are willing to try to understand and support them.  Most people don’t really want to die, but they can’t go on without support and help.

Listen

Listen to what is on their mind, and spend as much time with them as they need. If they admit to having suicidal thoughts, take it seriously and as far as possible limit the availability of medications, drugs, weapons or vehicles that they could use to harm themselves.

Seek help

In an emergency situation or if someone’s life is in imminent danger, call 000 without delay. Alternatively, take them straight to the Emergency Department at the nearest hospital, or see a GP or psychologist urgently.  Even if it is not an emergency, the person will need professional help and support imminently. Assist them to obtain the treatment they need.

Follow up

Although you may have helped a suicidal individual to get through a crisis situation, the problem likely hasn’t gone away. Even if the person appears to be returning to somewhat normal behaviour, the problems and emotions that caused the crisis in the first place must be dealt with, or they will soon manifest in another crisis.  Regularly check on the person and show your care and concern for them. Continue to support their efforts to seek appropriate treatment.

What NOT to do when someone is suicidal

While the situation may be confronting and uncomfortable for you, do NOT be afraid to tackle the issue and do NOT ignore it hoping it will go away. Lack of support and contact from a loved one, is usually interpreted by a suicidal individual as abandonment causing further emotional trauma and increasing their chances of taking their own life. 

If someone tells you that they want to kill themselves, it's important that you respond in the right way.   

No matter how hurt, angry or betrayed it may make you feel, there are some things you just SHOULD NOT say, such as:  

  • “How could you think of that? Life's not that bad!”
  • “How could you hurt me like that? Your family would be devastated.”
  • “Suicide is selfish.”
  • “Suicide is the easy way out.”
  • “You don’t mean that. You don’t want to die.”
  • “Things could be worse.”

While these statements may be true and well-intentioned, they don’t convey understanding, support, acceptance, hope or joy. Rather they may cause you to come across as judgemental, dismissive, irritated or condemning, causing the person to become even more ashamed, hurt, isolated and overwhelmed, further exacerbating the situation.

Resources to assist

If you are supporting a suicidal friend or family member, there are plenty of resources available to assist. Do not hesitate to seek help if you feel out of your depth or overwhelmed. 

The following organisations can provide immediate support for suicidal individuals or their family or friends:

  • Lifeline Australia 13 11 14 - help line available 24 hours a day / 7 days a week
  • Beyondblue Support Service 1300 22 46 36 - free phone, email, online chat counselling 24 hours a day / 7 days a week
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 - free phone, video or online counselling for anyone affected by suicide 24 hours a day / 7 days a week / Australia wide

Next steps - get advice now

It’s important to get advice for your specific situation. Check if you can make a risk-free compensation claim and get free initial advice from our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.

Last update on:
May 29, 2018
Disclaimer: This information is designed for general information in relation to Queensland compensation law. It does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you seek legal advice in regards to your specific situation. For expert advice call 1800 266 801 or chat via live chat to arrange free initial advice with our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.

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