What to say when someone expresses thoughts of suicide

Posted 3 months ago by David McManus
Expressing care for someone experiencing emotional distress can be complicated and overwhelming. [Source: Shutterstock]
Expressing care for someone experiencing emotional distress can be complicated and overwhelming. [Source: Shutterstock]

Content warning: the following article contains references to suicide

Key points:

  • Suicide is the leading cause of death among young Australians
  • Most people are afraid of saying the wrong thing or don’t know what to say to a person who mentions suicide

 

The Australian Suicide Prevention Foundation has launched a new campaign with two useful tools to support the communication, care and outreach of those speaking to a person who has expressed thoughts of suicide.

The ASPF has developed the ‘In Tough Times Text’ website and the ‘Prevent a Suicide: What to Say’ app, both of which are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. No training is required for either platform and users will not be required to sign up, to ensure confidentiality.

Both the website and mobile app were developed to offer medically approved text messages that family and friends can download and send to a suicidal person as texts or WhatsApp-appropriate messages.

Clinical Associate Professor David Horgan, founder of the ASPF, said 40 percent of people will know someone who has had thoughts of suicide throughout the course of their life, which may be brief or persistent.

The app was intended to offer people a range of template messages that they can use to ask questions, show support and express their concern for someone’s well-being during moments of hardship.

The template messages are vetted by experts, in addition to those who were at risk of suicide and have found the strength to recover with the help of others’ support. Prompts are categorised based on ‘what you can ask,’ ‘what you can say,’ ‘what you can do,’ and ‘connecting until recovery.’

 

What you can ask

Examples that are featured on the ‘In Tough Times Text’ website include:

 

“You’ve had some big life changes recently. I just wanted to check in to see how you’re travelling.”

“I’ve noticed you’ve been drinking more. Are you stressed?”

“When you’re thinking about your situation, what thoughts are going through your head?”

 

What you can say

Examples that are featured on the ‘In Tough Times Text’ website include:

 

“I may not know exactly how you feel, but I do want to help you get through this.”

“Depression always lies. You’re not all the negative things your brain is telling you.”

“Please hang out with me at any time. We don’t have to talk if you’re not feeling great, we can just sit quietly.”

 

What you can do

Examples that are featured on the ‘In Tough Times Text’ website include:

 

“We can organise for you not to be left alone until the crisis has passed.”

“It would be really good if you could speak to your GP or another mental health professional. I can set up an appointment and go with you.”

“Do you have a plan of how to harm yourself? Can I take away whatever means you were thinking of using to lessen the risk?”

 

Connecting until recovery

Examples featured on the ‘In Tough Times Text’ website include:

 

“I know you would keep regular contact with me if our positions were reversed.”

“You sound and look a bit better. That’s a very hopeful sign.”

“I would like to help — how can I make things easier for you?”

 

Dr Horgan said ‘Prevent a Suicide — What to Say’ is more than just an app, as it is a way to show someone in your life that you care and you are there for them.

“It is a way to prevent a suicide by sending a message, saving a life,” Dr Horgan said.

“Having direct [and] free access to the ‘Prevent a Suicide — What to Say’ app, 24 hours a day through a computer or mobile phone, is a major advantage for people in an emergency and can be easily shared.”

 

The mobile applications are available for free through the Apple App Store and the Google Play store.

 

If you or someone close to you is at risk of a medical emergency or mental health crisis, please refer to the following resources:

Emergency services — 000

Mental Health Emergency — 13 14 65

Lifeline — 13 11 14

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