It can be incredibly difficult to watch someone you know go through a hard time. Sometimes it can be tricky to know if someone is just going through a rough patch or whether there might be something more serious going on. When you start to suspect that someone is thinking about taking their own life, you may also feel confused and scared about what to do next. 

Tragically, suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15-44. Suicide prevention starts with recognising the warning signs. Though these may vary between people, here are some of the more common warning signs when it comes to suicide:

  • Social isolation or feeling alone
  • Aggression or irritability
  • Possessing lethal means
  • Feeling like a burden to others
  • Dramatic changes in mood and behaviour
  • Frequently talking about death
  • A history of suicidal behaviour
  • Engaging in 'risky' behaviours
  • Feeling like you don't belong
  • Giving things away
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Feeling trapped
  • Feeling worthless
  • A sense of hopelessness or no hope for the future

If you notice warning signs in someone you care about, it’s important to start the conversation. Talking to someone about whether they’re having suicidal thoughts can be hard. However, know that you’re not putting the idea of suicide into their head. Rather, you are reminding them that they are not alone and that there are supports out there to help them.

So how do you start the conversation? The best way is to be honest with them about what you’ve noticed and how you feel: “You haven’t seemed yourself lately and I’m worried about you.”

Follow this up with assuring them that you are there for them: “I want to help you and I’m here for you if you want to talk.”

By learning about suicide and the language to use, you’ll feel more equipped to have these hard conversations. The Conversations Matter website is a useful resource on what to say/not to say when it comes to suicide. However whilst it’s great to utilise these resources, it’s also important to recognise that you don’t have to be an expert. You don’t need to have the answers or offer solutions to anyone’s problems. It’s more important to ensure you’re being a mindful listener.

Encourage the person to create a suicide safety plan. This is a structured plan of strategies and supports that they can work through when they’re feeling suicidal. They can do this alone or with a support person. It’s important that their safety plan is easily accessible – it can be done by using the BeyondNow app, the form on the bb website or on a piece of paper. 

If you’re really worried about someone, there are some important resources you can use to talk it through. Lifeline provide crisis support and suicide prevention services – they can be contacted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 13 11 14. There is also the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and the Beyond Blue Support Service which can be contacted on 1300 224 636. If you think someone is in immediate danger, call emergency services on 000 and stay with them until help arrives. 

Related reading: 10 ways to be there for someone you’re worried about

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