Suicidal thoughts - How to support someone
Suicide is when someone ends their own life. This section looks at why someone might think about suicide and how you can help them. It also looks at support for you.
- People think about suicide for different reasons.
- If you are worried that someone may be thinking about suicide, talk to them. Ask them about how they are feeling.
- Talking to someone about their suicidal thoughts does not make them more likely to end their life.
- You can help someone who is feeling suicidal by listening, without judging them.
- You can support someone to think about other options to deal with their feelings. Such as accessing support from the NHS, charities or self-help.
- Small gestures such as saying ‘hello’ or asking, ‘how are you today?’ can sometimes make a big difference to how someone is feeling.
- If someone is in crisis you may need to get help from mental health services or the emergency services.
- If someone tries to end their life, this is not your fault.
- Helping someone with suicidal thoughts is likely to have a big impact on you. Find out what support is available to you.
What makes someone think of suicide?
People will think of suicide for different reasons. If someone is exposed to a ‘risk factor’ it needs to be assumed that suicidal thoughts are more likely to happen.
A risk factor might include:
- difficult life events. Such as a traumatic childhood or experiencing physical or emotional abuse,
- something upsetting or life changing such as a relationship ending or a loved one dying,
- anger at other people,
- misusing drugs or alcohol,
- living alone or having little social contact with other people,
- having a mental health condition such as depression, schizophrenia or personality disorder,
- having a physical health condition, especially if this causes pain or serious disability, or
- problems with work or money.
Can antidepressants cause suicidal thoughts?
There are lots of studies about a possible link between antidepressants and feeling suicidal. But results are inconclusive. It is thought that risk may be higher during the first 28 days of starting antidepressants or reducing them. Someone taking medication should be monitored during these periods.
Someone taking antidepressants may be more likely to have suicidal thoughts and behaviours if they are under 25. It doesn’t mean that antidepressants shouldn’t be given for people under 25 but risks and benefits need to be thought about. If someone on medication talks about being suicidal it may be caused by the medication.
Why may someone end their life?
There are lots of reasons why someone may end their life. Some reasons are:
- escape what they feel is an impossible situation,
- relieve unbearable thoughts or feelings, or
- relieve physical pain or incapacity.
What kind of thoughts may someone have?
When someone feels suicidal, they may have some of the thoughts listed below.
- I have let myself and other people down.
- I am a burden.
- I am a failure.
- No one needs me.
- What’s the point in living?
- I will never find a way out of my problem.
- I have lost everything.
- Things will never get better for me.
- Nobody cares about me.
- I’ll show them what they have done to me.
Some people feel guilty for thinking about suicide if they have people who care about them. This can sometimes make the feelings of despair worse.
What are the warning signs that someone feels suicidal?
A change in someone’s personality and behaviour might be a sign that they are having suicidal thoughts. You may be the best judge of when someone you know is behaving differently.
Changes can include:
- becoming anxious,
- being more irritable,
- being more confrontational,
- becoming quiet,
- having mood swings,
- acting recklessly,
- sleeping too much or too little,
- not wanting to be around other people,
- avoiding contact with friends and family,
- having different problems with work or studies, or
- saying negative things about themselves.
There are some indicators that suggest someone is more likely to attempt suicide. These include:
- threatening to hurt or kill themselves,
- talking or writing about death, dying or suicide,
- preparing to end their life. Such as storing up medication, or
- putting affairs in order. Such as giving away belongings or making a will.
Signs that something is wrong can sometimes be more difficult to spot. Such as a cheeriness which may seem fake to you. Or they may joke about their emotions. Such as saying something quite alarming that is disguised as a joke. Don’t ignore your gut feeling if you are concerned about someone. Some people won’t be open about how they are feeling.
A lot of people try to seek help before attempting suicide by telling other people about their feelings. This could be a professional, friend or family member. If someone tells you about how they are feeling don’t ignore them.
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.
You may feel uncomfortable talking about suicidal feelings. You may not know what to say. This is entirely normal and understandable.
It might help to:
- let them know that you care about them and that they are not alone,
- empathise with them. You could say something like, ‘I can’t imagine how painful this is for you, but I would like to try to understand,’
- be non-judgemental. Don’t criticise or blame them,
- repeat their words back to them in your own words. This shows that you are listening. Repeating information can also make sure that you have understood them properly,
- ask about their reasons for living and dying and listen to their answers. Try to explore their reasons for living in more detail,
- ask if they have felt like this before. If so, ask how their feelings changed last time,
- reassure them that they will not feel this way forever,
- encourage them to focus on getting through the day rather than focusing on the future,
- ask them if they have a plan for ending their life. Ask what the plan is,
- encourage them to seek help that they are comfortable with. Such as help from a doctor or counsellor, or support through a charity such as the Samaritans,
- follow up any commitments that you agree to,
- make sure someone is with them if they are in immediate danger,
- try to get professional help for the person feeling suicidal, and
- get support for yourself.
Remember that you don’t need to find an answer, or even to completely understand why they feel the way they do. Listening to what they have to say will at least let them know you care.
If you are not sure that someone is feeling suicidal, ask:
- “Are you thinking about suicide?” or
- “Are you having thoughts of ending your life?”
These questions are direct. It is better to address the person’s feelings directly rather than avoiding the issue. Asking about suicide won’t make it more likely to happen.
What won’t help someone who is feeling suicidal?
When someone tells you that they are feeling suicidal your response may be to:
- try and find an easy solution,
- tell them to ‘cheer up’, ‘pull themselves together’, ‘man up’ or ‘snap out of it,’
- change the subject,
- tell them that they have no reason to feel like that,
- tell them that they shouldn’t feel like that
- tell them that they should be grateful for having a good life, or
- tell them that are being silly.
These responses are unlikely to be helpful. They may make someone feel:
- like ‘no one understands,’
- criticised, or
Reassurance, respect and support can help someone to recover from a 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 assume that someone wont attempt to take their own life if they talk about suicide. Always take suicidal feelings 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.
How do I keep them safe?
It is unlikely that you will be able to make their feelings go away, but you can help them by:
- not leaving them on their own,
- talking to them. See the beginning of this section for more information,
- seeking professional help. See the following section for more information,
- helping them to create a crisis plan, and
- removing items that they can end their life with.
The removal of items will depend on what their immediate plan is to end their life. Examples include:
- sharp objects such as razor blades and knives,
- cleaning products,
- drugs, and
- belts, cords, wires and rope.
What’s a crisis plan?
A crisis plan is sometimes called a safety plan. Ideally a crisis plan should be made before someone is in crisis, but it is never too late to start.
If someone is being supported by a care coordinator, they should already have a crisis plan in place. You can ask them to show you their crisis plan. But it is their choice if they show you or not.
The aim of a crisis plan is to think about what support someone needs when they are in crisis. This may include:
- not being alone,
- removing certain objects from the home,
- talking to a certain person or helpline,
- talking to a professional,
- distraction techniques, and
- including reasons to live, such as pictures of family.
Distraction techniques can include:
- Read a book or magazine
- Watch a film or TV
- Go to a museum
- Walk in a green space like a park
- Draw or paint
- Listen to music
- Listen to nature
- Spend time with a pet
Remember to write down the names and numbers of people who would be able to help them.
There is no set way for how a crisis plan should look. There is a crisis plan template available in the factsheet for this section. Click on the download button at the top of the page to view it.
You can find more information about:
What services can help someone who is feeling suicidal?
Emergency services and Accident and Emergency (A&E)
If someone is in immediate danger of taking their own life call emergency services on 999. Ask for an ambulance. Or take them to A&E at their local hospital.
Hospital staff will decide if they need to be admitted to hospital or not.
Give A&E staff as much information about the situation.
Crisis team or home treatment team
Crisis teams are sometimes called home treatment teams. They are part of NHS mental health services. They give short term support for people having a mental health crisis.
They are there to try and prevent people from needing to go to hospital. They should be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Access to the crisis team is different in different areas of the country. You may be able to contact them as a friend or family member. GPs, A&E and the police can also ask them to see someone.
Community Mental Health Team (CMHT)
If there isn’t a crisis team in the area you could contact the CMHT. They are part of the NHS.
They support and give treatment to people with mental health issues.
Call their GP if you know who they are. A GP may be able to offer support in a crisis. If the GP surgery is closed there will be a recorded message to tell you who to call.
NHS 111 can help if you have an urgent medical problem and you’re not sure what to do.
Dial 111 on your phone. It is a free service. They are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Recovery or crisis house
Crisis houses help people in crisis. They are an alternative to going into hospital. Usually people only stay in a crisis house from a couple of days up to a month. It is not a hospital but there will be healthcare professionals onsite. Usually a GP or other healthcare professional will refer someone. The NHS or charities usually run them.
They are not available in every area of the country. You can search online or check with local mental health teams to find out what is available in the local area.
Some charities offer emotional support services. They help by listening to someone’s concerns and giving them space and time to talk through how they feel. Emotional support services are not the same as counselling services.
You can find details of emotional support services at the bottom of this page.
What happens after I contact services for support?
Will they be taken to hospital?
Someone who has tried to take their own life or is showing suicidal behaviours will usually be taken to hospital. They will be kept safe and may be offered treatment.
They may be detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act. But this isn’t always necessary.
When will they be discharged from hospital?
Doctors will decide when someone is safe to leave hospital. If you don’t agree that someone is safe to leave, discuss your concerns with the hospital. Focus on risk. It may be helpful to think about the following questions:
- What do you think will happen when they leave hospital?
- Why does this concern you?
- What is the likelihood of this happening?
- Do you have any evidence to back up your concerns?
- Do they have support?
- Are there any safeguarding issues? For example, are there children in the house who may be affected?
What will happen when they are discharged from hospital?
If someone still needs a lot of support when they leave hospital you could ask them to be assessed for a package of care called ‘care programme approach’ (CPA). CPA are provided by NHS mental health teams. You can ask the hospital or GP to refer them to the mental health team.
CPA means that they will have a care plan and a care coordinator. The care plan will outline all of their needs. Their needs will be both NHS treatment and social care needs. The care plan will explain who is responsible for meeting each need.
Your relative should be placed under CPA if they have been detained in hospital under certain sections of the Mental Health Act such as section 3, or section 37.
What will happen if they aren’t taken to hospital?
They might be supported by the crisis team, community mental health team or GP.
If you think that they should be in hospital, ask for a Mental Health Act assessment.
It is best if the nearest relative (NR) asks for the assessment, but anyone can request one. NR is a legal term under the Mental Health Act. It is different to ‘next of kin.’ The nearest relative has certain rights.
What is a Mental Health Act Assessment?
A Mental Health Act assessment is an assessment to see if someone needs to go to hospital to be kept safe or treated against their will.
How do I ask for a Mental Health Act assessment?
If you are concerned that someone is a risk to themselves or other people you could try and get a Mental Health Act assessment by contacting an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP).
An AMHP works for social services but can often be found through the community mental health team (CMHT) or mental health crisis team.
The only way to give someone treatment who doesn’t want it is through the Mental Health Act. They will only be detained under the Mental Health Act if they are assessed as a high risk to themselves or other people.
There is no definition for what high risk means. It could include:
- not being aware of hazards because of delusional thoughts or confusion,
- refusing to eat for fear that food is contaminated, or
- threatening to harm self or others due to delusions or severe paranoia.
Think about the following questions:
- Who is in danger of being harmed?
- What evidence do you have of this? Have they done it before?
- How has their behaviour changed?
- When did their behaviour change?
- Are they aggressive? If so, how?
- Have they tried to harm themselves or other people? If so, how and when did it happen?
- Have they stopped eating, drinking or bathing?
- Have you got any evidence to show the changes in their behaviour?
Detaining someone in hospital can be a stressful process. It is usually the best option if someone can be encouraged to get the help for themselves, such as though their GP. Treatment available should be the same in hospital as in the community.
You can find more information about:
Mental illness, self harm & suicide
Are people with a mental illness at greater risk of suicide?
People with a mental illness are generally more likely to feel suicidal and attempt suicide.
Research shows that a person is more likely to attempt suicide if they have recently been discharged from a mental health hospital or unit.
What can someone do to try to stop suicidal thoughts from happening?
People manage their mental health in different ways. This is because different people find different things useful. Common examples of how people manage their mental health are:
- support from the NHS. Such as taking medication or attending talking therapy sessions,
- support through social services. Such as having a support worker to help with stressful tasks like form filling or meeting new people,
- support through charities. Such as going to support groups or using emotional support lines,
- support from family and friends,
- private treatment. Such as paying for talking therapy, or
- self-help. Such as exercise and focusing on sleep.
You can find more information about:
Is there a link between self-harm and suicide?
Self-harm means that someone harms themselves on purpose. Self-harm isn’t a mental health condition, but it is often linked to mental distress.
Someone who self-harms don’t usually want to die. They may self-harm to deal with life, rather than a way of trying to end it.
But self-harm can increase the risk of suicide. Someone may accidentally end their life. Someone who self-harms should be taken seriously and offered help.
You can find more information about ‘Self-harm’ by clicking here.
How can I get support for me?
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 can be stressful. And you are likely to need support yourself. You could try the following.
- Talk to friends and family.
- Talk to an emotional support helpline. There is a list of emotional support lines in the ‘useful contacts’ section below.
- Talk to your GP about medication or talking therapies for yourself.
- Talk to their care team or their local council about a carer’s assessment.
- Join a carers service. They are free and available in most areas.
- Join a carers support group for emotional and practical support. Or set up your own.
- Take some time to concentrate on yourself.
What is a carers assessment?
You have a right to have a carers assessment through the local authority if you need support as a carer. A carers assessment will work out what effect your caring role is having on your health. And what support you need. Such as practical support and emergency support.
To get a carer’s assessment you need to contact the local authority of the person you support.
It’s common for people to not consider themselves to be a carer. If you give someone lots of support, such as emotional support, you are a carer.
How do I get support from my peers?
You can get peer support through carer support services or carers groups. You can search for local groups in your area by using a search engine such as Google. Or you can call our advice service on 0300 5000 927. They will search for you.
You can find more information about:
The Samaritans give people confidential emotional support. In some areas they have local branches where you can go for support.
This is a national helpline. The offer emotional support and information for people affected by mental health problems.
Telephone: 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm – 10.30pm daily)
Textline: available through their website
CALM (The Campaign Against Living Miserably)
They raise awareness of suicide. Their helpline and webchat offers emotional support, advice and information to men and their families.
Telephone for outside London: 0800 58 58 58.
Telephone for inside London: 0808 802 5858.5pm – midnight, everyday.
Webchat: through the website
PAPYRUS (prevention of young suicide)
This is an organisation that aims to prevent suicide in young people. It can offer emotional support to people under 35 who are suicidal. They can also support people who are concerned about a young person who might be suicidal.
Aimed at people under 25. Their helpline is open between 4pm and 11pm, 7 days a week. They also run a crisis text service which is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Telephone: 0808 808 4994
E-mail: through the website.
Crisis text message service: Text THEMIX to 85258
Webchat: through the website. (4pm - 11pm, 7 days a week)
If you’re experiencing a personal crisis, are unable to cope and need support, text Shout to 85258. Shout can help with urgent issues such as suicidal thoughts, abuse or assault, self-harm, bullying and relationship challenges.
Text: Text Shout to 85258
Support line offers confidential emotional support by telephone, email and post. They try to help people find positive ways to cope and feel better about themselves.
Maytree is a national registered charity based in London. They provide a unique residential service for people in suicidal crisis so they can talk about their suicidal thoughts and behaviour. They offer a free 4 night, 5 day one-off stay to adults over the age of 18 from across the UK. Their aim is to provide a safe, confidential, non-medical environment for their guests.