Supporting someone with suicidal thoughts

A person with suicidal thoughts may not ask for help, but that doesn’t mean that help isn’t wanted. People who take their lives don’t want to die—they just want to stop hurting. Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs and taking those signs seriously. If you think a friend or family member is considering suicide, you might be afraid to bring up the topic, but talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life.

  1. What makes someone consider suicide as an option?

It’s rare to find someone who would want to end their life for a single thing. Experts believe that lots of complex issues can make someone feel suicidal making them feel that there’s nothing that can help them get out of it.

But there are certain factors that can trigger someone towards suicide even more. These might include:

  • misuse of drugs or alcohol
  • Problems with regard to work or money
  • difficult life events – such as having a traumatic childhood or experiencing physical or emotional abuse
  • having a mental health condition such as depression, schizophrenia or any personality disorder
  • living alone or having little or no social contact with other people
  • having a physical health condition, especially if this causes extreme pain or serious disability
  • something upsetting or life altering such as break up or a loved one dying

Why do people opt for ending their lives?

A person may choose to end their lives to:

  • free oneself from unbearable thoughts or feelings
  • escape what they feel is an impossible situation
  • relieve physical pain or incapacity

What goes on in their heads?

When someone feels suicidal, they may have some of the thoughts listed below.

  • Things will never get better for me
  • What’s the point in living?
  • I have let myself and other people down
  • Nobody cares about me
  • I will never find a way out of my problem/s
  • There’s nothing left for me

Some people may not be sure about why exactly they want their life to end. Some people might be sure about their reason to die whereas some ought just not have the zeal or reason to live.

There are also people who feel guilty for considering suicide if they have people who really care for them.

  1. What are the obvious warning signs?

A depressive change in someone’s personality and behaviour might be a sign that they might be having suicidal thoughts. You may be the best judge of when someone you know well is behaving differently.

Changes can include:

  • having more problems with work or studies
  • acting recklessly
  • thinking and saying negative things about themselves
  • becoming anxious, irritable or confrontational
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • having mood swings
  • preferring to be socially isolated

People who are more likely to commit suicide may show signs like:

  • mentioning death, dying or suicide, or
  • threatening to hurt or kill themselves,
  • actively looking forward to end their life, such as stockpiling medication

Most of the people would be unsure if they want to end their life. They would measure out the pros and cons of living and dying. It is rare for someone to be certain that they want to end their own life. Most people will be undecided about suicide, seeing some ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of living and dying.

A lot of people try to seek help before attempting suicide by telling other people about their feelings or by self-harming to show people that they are in emotional pain.

  1. How can I help someone who is feeling suicidal?

If you think that someone may be feeling suicidal, encourage them to talk about how they are feeling.

Remember that you don’t need to find an answer, or even to completely understand why they feel the way they do. At least listening to what they have to say will let them know you care.

It might help you to:

  • make sure someone is with them if they are in immediate danger
  • try to get professional help for the person feeling suicidal and support for yourself
  • let the person know that you care about them and that they are not alone

You could reassure the person that their feelings are temporary, that things will change and that you can get help, including help from a doctor.

If you are not sure that someone is feeling suicidal, you could ask:

  • “Are you even thinking about suicide?” or
  • “Are you having thoughts of ending your life?”

These questions might seem upfront but it is better to address the person’s feelings directly than to best around the bush. This is not an everyday conversation for most of the people so it’s natural to feel uncomfortable and unsure of how to approach them. This is entirely normal and understandable. However, you can help by being calm, supportive and non-judgmental.

Try to see the world through that person’s eyes. Try to do this without judging, criticizing or blaming them.

 What won’t help someone who is feeling suicidal?

When someone tells you that they are feeling suicidal you may feel like trying to cheer that person up by telling them that they have no reason to feel like that. These are understandable responses but may not help that much.

Someone who wants to end their life will not want:

  • people to change the subject when they are talking about how they feel
  • to be told that they should be grateful for having such a good life
  • to feel rejected by friends, family or colleagues
  • to be patronized, criticized or analyzed
  • to be told to cheer up or ‘snap out of it’
  • to be told that they are wrong or silly

Reassurance, respect and support are three major things that can help a person recover at this difficult time.

 What if someone is saying they want to end their life now?

Talking about suicide can be a plea for help. Don’t just assume that because someone has talked about suicide they won’t try to take their own life. You should always take this seriously.

If you talk to someone about their feelings and it seems as though they want to end their life soon, try to keep them safe in the short term. It is unlikely that you will be able to make their feelings go away, but you can help by making them see the brighter side and that there are some things worth living for.

It might help to:

  • ask about their reasons for living and dying and listen to their answers. Try to explore their reasons for living in more detail
  • be supportive and accept what they are telling you
  • ask whether they have tried to kill themselves before
  • ask whether they are thinking about ending their life now or soon
  • follow up any commitments that you agree to
  • try and get a better understanding of why
  • try to make them safe and be open to making reasonable steps to help them
  • ask if they have a plan for how they would do it in the future

If you live with the person, you could also try to remove potentially dangerous things from the house that they could use to take their own life. The kind of thing you could try to remove depends on the person’s immediate plan for taking their own life. They could include sharp objects and knives, cleaning products, medicines and belts. If the person is in crisis, do not leave them alone.

  1. What services can help someone who is feeling suicidal?

Helpline Services

If you think that someone in urgent danger, is going to try and take their life immediately or has already tried, call Vandrevala Foundation 1860-266-2345 / 1800-233-3330.

What happens next?

Getting more help from mental health services or GP can discuss hospital treatment or refer to the counsellor.

  1. Are people with mental illnesses at greater risk of suicide?

People with mental illnesses are generally more likely to feel suicidal and try to take their own lives than people who do not have mental illnesses. Research also shows that a person could be more likely to try to end their own life if they have recently been discharged from a mental health hospital or unit. At this time, it is essential that someone gets them the right support.

Making sure that someone attends appointments with health services and has a care plan in place is important to keep someone well and prevent them from feeling suicidal.

  1. Self-harm and suicide

Self-harm is when someone deliberately tries to harm or injure themselves. Some people may do this more than once.

There are different views on whether someone trying to take their own life is similar to self-harm.

People do not usually self-harm to take their own life. Instead, people can self-harm to deal with emotional pain, punish themselves or express distress to other people.

If the person you care for self-harms, they may do this privately and may not want to talk openly about it. You can try to talk to them about why they do it. Let them know that you do not judge them and are there to talk if they need to. If they refuse to stop self-harming then you may be able to persuade them to do it safely, or to try safer alternative methods. It is unlikely that they will stop altogether just because you have asked them to.

  1. How can I find support?

If you know someone who talks about or has tried suicide, you might feel upset, frustrated, confused or scared. These are all normal responses.

Supporting a person who is suicidal is likely to be a stressful time in your life, and a time when you are likely to need support for yourself. You could:

  • talk to friends and family
  • talk to someone on an emotional support helpline (see our useful contacts)
  • talk to your own doctor
  • join a support group
  • take some time out to concentrate on your own self

You can use emotional support telephone services if you want to talk to someone about how you are feeling. You could tell the person you care for about these services. You may want to talk to someone about the effect the situation is having on you. You can find our list of Emotional Support Helpline in India here.


Written by Rimpa Sarkar

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