Worried about someone suicidal

It can be frightening and distressing when someone you care about wants to end their life.

We can help you recognise common suicidal warning signs, start a conversation with someone you’re worried about and make a plan to keep them safe.

People who have thought about suicide say the most important thing family, friends and colleagues can do is listen, show they care, and offer support.

Suicidal warning signs

Some suicides happen without any obvious warning, but usually there are warning signs. It’s important to understand what the warning signs are and look out for them.

Suicidal warning signs and coping strategies

Talk to someone you're worried about

You don’t need to be a doctor or psychologist to check-in with someone you’re worried about. If a person you know seems to be struggling, reach out and connect with them. It could save their life.

Asking someone if they’re thinking about suicide won’t ‘put ideas in their head’. Your friend or loved one is more likely to feel relieved at being heard and understood.

Be prepared that your friend or loved one might not be ready to talk right now. Don’t pressure them - it’s their personal choice to talk about it or not. Let them know you’re here for them when they’re ready.

Choose a time when you’re both calm

Ideally, your friend or loved one needs to be calm to be able to have this conversation.

You also need to be calm to be able to have this conversation. Make sure the time is right for you too.

It might take a long time to have this conversation and your friend or loved one needs to feel that you have time to listen.

Find somewhere you won’t be interrupted

Choose a place or activity where you can talk openly and easily, without getting interrupted. This might be:

  • at their place – it’s easier to talk to someone when they are comfortable in their own environment.
  • doing something you enjoy together – watching TV, gaming or cooking dinner.
  • walking – go for a walk down your street, in the park or along a beach.
  • driving – talking side-by-side can make the conversation feel less intense.

Chatting online

It’s okay to have the conversation online, but try to avoid chatting in a public forum.

If someone posts a comment on social media or an online forum about feeling suicidal, send them a private message.

What to say to someone feeling suicidal

Be prepared to listen, even if it’s hard to hear or upsets you.

Make sure the person knows you’re here for them. Use non-verbal cues like eye contact or nodding while they’re talking.

Conversation starters

It can be hard to know how to start the conversation. Here are some options.

How are you?

Be prepared for them to say ‘fine’ or ‘good thanks’. Follow up with, ‘How are you really?’

You don’t seem yourself.

Letting your friend or loved one know you’ve noticed something different about them shows you care. Tell them you’re worried about them. Make sure they know you’re not upset with them for behaving differently.

I’ve had a strange week, how was yours?

Sharing some of the things you’re struggling with can help start the conversation. Be careful not to focus on yourself too much.

Is everything okay at home? (or at work or school)

Making the question specific can get the conversation started. It might not be one thing. It might be a combination of many things, or maybe nothing in particular.

Ask directly about their suicidal feelings

It can be daunting to bring this up directly but research shows that asking about it won't put the idea in their head. Instead they'll likely feel relieved someone is there to listen and support them.

Are you having thoughts about suicide?

If they say ‘yes’, try to listen with empathy and without judgement.

How long have you been feeling this way? Have you felt this way before?

Keep asking open-ended questions, encouraging the conversation. 

Have you thought about how or when you would kill yourself? Have you taken any steps to get the things you would need to carry out your plan?

Find out if they’ve made a plan. People who have made a plan are more at risk.

It’s okay to talk about this with me. You’re not alone.

Tell the person that suicidal thoughts are common and it’s okay to talk about those feelings. 

Just take your time, there’s no rush. I know talking about this can be difficult. I’m here to listen. You can tell me anything.

Reassure them that you’re here to listen and support them. 

We can find a way to get through this.

Try to offer hope and suggest that people can find ways to get through tough times. 

Offer to help them get professional support

I’m not sure what to say or do, but I want to help you get support. Can we call Lifeline together?

It can take time for people to feel ready to talk to someone – and they may not ever want to. Let your friend know there are options.

If they’re in immediate danger of taking their own life:

  • call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance
  • call or chat online to Lifeline (13 11 14) or
  • Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467) - free, confidential 24/7 counselling services. No problem is too big or small.

For non-urgent professional mental health support:

What not to say

Don’t try to talk someone out of suicide by reminding them ‘what they’ve got going for them’ or how much it would hurt their friends and family.

Don’t try to fix their problems. Listen with empathy and without judgement.

Don’t dismiss it as ‘attention-seeking’. Take them seriously and acknowledge the reasons they want to die.

Find the right words

The words we use to describe suicide have changed. For example, we don’t say ‘commit suicide’ anymore because suicide is no longer a crime.

Use these words to help reduce stigma:

  • died by suicide
  • suicided
  • ended his/her life
  • took his/her life
  • attempt to end his/her life. 

Avoid using these words:

  • committed suicide
  • successful suicide
  • completed suicide
  • failed attempt at suicide
  • unsuccessful suicide.

Make a suicide safety plan

A personalised suicide safety plan gives the person 7 steps to follow if they start to feel suicidal:

  1. recognise your warning signs
  2. make your surroundings safe
  3. remind you of reasons to live
  4. distract yourself with things you like doing
  5. connect with people and places
  6. talk to family and friends
  7. get professional support.

Suicide safety plans can be made with a health professional, but many people make safety plans by themselves. Here are some ideas of what to say if you want to support them to make a safety plan:

Have you heard of safety planning? Have you made one before?

A safety plan is a list of things you can do and people you can rely on. They can help you feel better when you're feeling suicidal, or when you feel things are getting worse.

It sounds like you know when things are starting to get worse, and you’ve got ideas of things you can do to cope when things get tough.  We can put your ideas into the safety plan so you can get to them easily when you need.

For more information about suicide safety planning and to download our free Beyond Now safety planning app go to: Beyond Now – suicide safety planning


Look after yourself

It's important for people who are supporting someone with suicidal thoughts and feelings to look after themselves, both physically and emotionally.

We have information and resources to support you: Look after your wellbeing while supporting someone else.

Journey to recovery - personal stories

Those who have recovered from mental health conditions often attribute part of their recovery journey to the people who supported them.

Hearing their stories of recovery can help you imagine your own journey. 

Read more personal stories