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Ask now, save lives

Ask now, save lives

If you are worried about someone, remember that research shows that it is safer to ask about suicide than not to ask about suicide.

Asking someone if they’re suicidal could protect them. This might be their first step in getting help and hearing that they matter.

Most people don’t want to end their lives, but they want the suffering and pain to end.

How you manage those conversations matters.

Ask now, save lives

Asking someone if they’re suicidal could protect them. Here are some suggestions to help you with those life-saving conversations.

Training courses

We deliver globally and nationally recognised training and qualifications around suicide prevention.
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Stay Alive app

You can download our app to have quick and easy access to lots of practical advice and resources if you are worried about someone.

Real Talk film

Real Talk is a free 30-minute interactive film that helps you gain the skills and confidence to talk to someone about suicide.
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Suicide is a topic that is surrounded by falsehoods and stigma. We have gathered and debunked some of the most harmful suicide myths.

A woman speaks into a microphone at a World Suicide Prevention Day event.

Warning signs

By being alert to potential warning signs that someone may be thinking of suicide, you can help interrupt those thoughts and help get them support.
You may feel extremely anxious about what to do if you think someone is thinking of harming themselves.
It’s important to remember that you don’t need to be a health professional to check-in with someone that you are worried about.
If a person you know seems to be struggling, reaching out and making them know they matter and encourage them to get help could save their life.
Below are some suggestions to help you have that conversation. 
Please only read through these if you are ready, mentally and emotionally, to tackle a serious and sensitive subject. 

Think about the location

Talking in a place where someone doesn't feel comfortable can affect what they say. 

At home or in a quiet and private place 

It’s easier to talk to someone when they are comfortable and not worried about showing emotions. 

While doing something you enjoy together

Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone and give them time to respond when you’re doing something together. It can help them to feel less pressure and attention.

On a walk 

You could suggest going for a walk in a quiet or secluded place. Some people might not feel safe at home or in more public spaces. Nature can often help people to feel more relaxed. 

Start the conversation

Click each phrase for more information, ideas and clarifications. 

“Are you ok?”
“Are you really ok?”
“How are you really?”

It’s easier to talk to someone when they are comfortable and not worried about showing emotions.

Ask at least twice if they say they are fine.

This shows that you care about them and have noticed a change. It is important to show that you are concerned for them and not upset with how they are behaving. 

A specific question can get the conversation started but remember they may be upset about a combination of things or nothing, just a general feeling.  

Sometimes it’s good to break the ice with the fact that life isn’t always great, and to show that you understand. Be careful not to make it all about you. 

How to ask about suicide

“Are you having thoughts about suicide? 
“Are you thinking about suicide?”
“Are you having thoughts of ending your life?” 
“Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

Be prepared that the person may answer ‘yes’.

When they answer, listen with empathy and without judgement. Be careful not to look shocked or upset as they may then be careful what they say. Be prepared to listen, even if it’s hard to hear and try to stay calm. 

What to say next

“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.”
“I want to listen and understand.”

Reassure them that they matter to you and that you’re here to listen and support them and that you don’t need to rush off. 

Many people who feel suicidal will feel worthless and you patiently prioritising the conversation will mean a lot.

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

If so, ask how their feelings changed last time. Reassure them that they won’t feel this way forever, and that intensity of feelings can reduce in time.

Encourage them to focus on getting through the present rather than focussing on the future.

“Have you got a plan? What is it?”
“Have you thought about how you would kill yourself?”
“Have you thought about when you would kill yourself?”
“Have you taken any steps to get the things you would need to carry out your plan?”
“Have you thought about how you might do this?”

This is important.

People who have made a plan are at more risk.  Let them know that you care about them and that they aren’t alone.

“I can’t imagine how painful this is for you, but I would like to try to understand.”
“I’m here, we can find a way to get through this.”
Empathise with them. Be aware you don’t know exactly how they feel and that you have the time to listen.
“You’re not alone, lots of people feel like this.”
“I’m glad you’re telling me how you feel.”
“One in five people have thoughts like yours and recover from them, it is okay to feel like this.”

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

“What reasons do you have for staying alive?”

Ask about their reasons for living and dying and listen to their answers. Focus on people they care about, and who care about them.

Keep asking open-ended questions – this means there isn’t a yes or no answer, but an opportunity for them to speak more, encouraging the conversation.

“Thank you for telling me.”

Encourage them to seek help that they are comfortable with. Such as help from a doctor or counsellor, or support through a crisis charity such as the Samaritans.

What not to say

Click each phrase for more information, ideas and clarifications.
Their feelings won’t go away because you want them to, they will suffer in silence.
This could make someone feel more isolated and ashamed of their feelings.
Just listen with empathy and without judgement.
Their distress and pain is real and may be a cause of a combination of things, including mental health issues. Dismissing them might make them feel they won’t be understood.
Many people who feel suicidal may feel they are failing; this could increase their feelings of inadequacy.
What is distressing may be a combination of many complex reasons, including mental health issues that have been building over time.
Suicidal ideation is painful, complex and unique to the individual.
Dismissing and belittling their feelings could make them feel more worthless and unimportant.