Supporting someone who’s struggling with suicidal thoughts and/or their mental health can be challenging, and sometimes it can be hard to know exactly what to say.
But there is plenty you can do to support someone who may be experiencing these feelings. Suicide prevention starts with recognising the warning signs, and then trying to talk to someone you’re worried about. For guidance on spotting the signs that someone may be struggling, Samaritans have more information here.
No one is expecting you to be an expert on how to do this- the importance of just listening to someone can be enough to break the cycle of suicidal thoughts and help them to work through what they’re feeling.
“I’m concerned about a friend- how do I start a conversation?”
Don’t be afraid- starting a conversation can be enough to show someone that they’re not alone in coping with how they feel. Being empathetic and non-judgemental to what they tell you will help to put you both at ease.
It’s important to remember that talking to someone about their suicidal thoughts does not mean they’re more likely to end their life- this is a myth.
If they are talking about suicide, always take it seriously. You don’t have to provide a solution to their problems, but if you feel able to, you can offer signposting support and encourage them to talk through their feelings.
Be an active listener- don't be afraid to ask direct questions and an honest dialogue. If you’re unsure as to whether someone is feeling suicidal, asking ‘Are you thinking about suicide?” or “Are you having thoughts about taking your own life” which help to address their feelings, and ensure that their feelings aren’t seen as something to be avoided and kept to themselves.
Many people want the chance to talk about their thoughts, but may not want to burden those around them. The more honest and open you can be in starting the conversation, the more at ease they may feel talking about their thoughts.
Samaritans have a short video on listening tips when having these difficult conversations here.
“I’m helping a friend to seek help- where can I signpost them to?”
You should never feel like you have to cope with supporting someone alone. There are a range of options you can signpost someone to or explore together.
Encouraging them to seek other types of support if you feel like you’re unsure of how further to help isn’t a bad thing- you're helping more by ensuring they can speak to someone who may have the training to deal with particular issues they’re facing.
They can contact Samaritans on 116 123 24/7 for free to discuss how they’re feeling. You can also contact Samaritans yourself on their behalf, and request that they contact the person who is struggling.
You can check out our dedicated page on getting support (can we link through?), which provides an overview of helplines, websites, and services available both within the University and externally.
Mindwell- Another valuable resource is Mindwell Leeds, a mental health help website that you as a supporter can utilise to find specific support for a friend, or you can refer someone directly to the site to explore themselves: mindwell-leeds.org.uk
For more information on how to have conversations about suicide, please visit: samaritans.org
Self-care advice for those supporting
Supporting someone through mental health issues can be difficult and distressing for you and can in some instances have a big impact on your wellbeing. Make sure you take time to look after yourself, and always remember that it’s okay to reach out for help yourself.
Keep in contact with friends/family/course support to ensure you have someone to seek support in should you need it.
Maintain your boundaries. It’s completely fine to not be able to solve every problem, and not have all the answers. You can encourage and assist your friend to seek support elsewhere for specific issues you may not feel able to deal with.
Make use of some of the helplines/support services on our Get Support page. You can call Samaritans (116 123) for advice on being a supporter/carer.
The University, in conjunction with the SU and other partners have produced a ‘It’s Okay To Talk About Suicide’ Booklet, which can be found here. Physical copies can also be collected.