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How to talk to someone who is feeling suicidal

On World Suicide Prevention Day, Pablo Vandenabeele, Clinical Director of Mental Health at Bupa UK, shares some important advice.

By Will Stroude

Suicidal thoughts and feelings can affect anyone at any time, regardless of your age, gender or background. There’s no ‘one reason’ that causes you to experience these thoughts; in some cases it may feel triggered by feelings of depression, socially isolation or grief. Any changes to your life can affect how you feel, and these can happen to anyone.

This year alone we’ve all gone through a considerable amount of change in our lives, so it’s really important to be there for your loved ones, especially if they’re struggling with their mental health. Although it can be difficult to know what to say, if you’re concerned that a loved one may be feeling suicidal, it’s important to encourage them to open up and talk.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and we’ve teamed up with Pablo Vandenabeele – Clinical Director of Mental Health at Bupa UK – to raise awareness of how to talk to someone who is feeling suicidal, and where to seek support.

Listen without judgement

If you’re worried about a loved one having suicidal thoughts, it’s really important to let them know it’s OK to open up about talk. This can be tough at first but start with small but direct questions like “tell me about…” or “how do you feel about…”, as these open questions may encourage them to speak up. While it can be a challenging topic to open up about, it can also provide a sense of relief to confide in others.

When they are ready to talk about how they feel, show that you’re listening by repeating their words back to them, but in your own words. Not only does this show that you’re listening without judgement, but it also ensures you’ve understood them properly.

Small gestures go a long way

If you’re feeling suicidal, you may avoid contact with your loved ones, not want to around others and feel socially isolated. Asking someone close to you about how they are, and actually taking time to listen to their response, can make a big difference to how someone is feeling. Spending time with someone is also really important as it will help build up your relationship. Don’t expect someone to open up immediately, in most cases it will take time.

Let them know you care

Reassure your loved one that you’re here for them, and that their life is important to you. Often those who are suicidal may feel worthless or a burden to those around them, so let them know that they are valued by saying something like “you’re important to me”. Reassurance, respect and support can help someone to recover from a difficult time.

Share the support available

There’s lots of support out there for those who feel suicidal and it’s crucial to share these support networks with them. If they’re not sure where to seek support, encourage them to speak to their GP as a starting point. There are also charities – like the Samaritans – that can help and offer 24-hour support lines, so they can access help whenever they need it. If they are in immediate danger, the fastest way to get help is to call an ambulance on 999.

There’s no perfect way to have this conversation, but as long as you’re listening to them and you’re showing you understand, this can help someone feel supported.

Get support for yourself

Supporting someone who is struggling can be really tough, so it’s important to look out for yourself, too. Give yourself time to rest and speak to someone close if you’re struggling. It can be helpful to establish a support network – this could be with friends, family or mental health professionals – to help both your loved one who is feeling suicidal, and for anyone close to them that’s been affected.

If you or someone you know is in need of support contact the Samaritans on 116 123 (UK) or 116 123 (Republic of Ireland).