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.
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.