Okay, let’s break the stigma and chat about suicide… because a scary little fact you might not know is that every year over 65,000 Australians make a suicide attempt. This is something as a community we need to change and we CAN change if we start to talk about mental health openly.
Starting a conversation with someone about suicide can be a little frightening but you don’t need to be a GP or a doctor to check-in with someone you are worried about. Below are some tips on how to start a conversation about suicide from some of Australia’s leading mental health and suicide organisations.
Don’t fear the conversation
Some people find talking about suicide, as uncomfortable or even scary as they think it might ‘put ideas into their head’. But by starting a conversation, your friend or loved one will probably feel relieved to be heard and understood which can lead to more conversations about seeking help.
‘If a person you know seems to be struggling, reaching out and connecting with them could save their life.’ – Beyond Blue
There’s a time and place
When wanting to chat to someone you’re worried about be sure to pick a time and place that allows you to easily talk to one another without getting interrupted. It may turn into a long conversation so be sure not to have any other commitments as your friend or loved one needs to feel that you have time to listen.
Some suggestions from Beyond Blue: at their place, go for a walk or drive, online in a private message (not a public forum) or when doing something you both enjoy.
Before going into a conversation with your friend or loved one, be prepared as the conversation may go down an unexpected path. Being prepared for good and bad responses when having a conversation about suicide can make you feel more comfortable discussing mental health. Beyond Blue offers a range of useful resources including:
- Suicidal signs to look for in someone
- Suicide myths and facts
- Having a conversation – be prepared
- Self care for the supporter
Start the conversation
There are many ways to start a conversation about suicide but don’t feel as though you must read a script. Consider the words you’re using but let the conversation flow naturally. Here are some conversation starters you may want to consider:
How are you? *insert ‘I’m fine’ or ‘good thanks’ standard response* How are you really?
Is everything okay at work/school/home? Being specific can help get the conversation rolling but remember it might be a combination of things or feeling that are impacting your friend or loved one.
I’ve had a bit of a hard time lately, how about you? It’s okay to admit that life isn’t always great and can help break the ice as you show you understand but be cautious not to make the whole conversation about you.
You don’t seem yourself lately. Telling your friend or loved one that you have noticed a change in their behaviour shows you care. Letting them know you are concerned and not upset is really important.
Keep the conversation going
Remember our communication isn’t just in the words we use and consider your body language such as making eye contact, holding their hand, patting their back, and nodding when talking. These little cues can help your friend or loved one feel more comfortable and keep the conversation going. Here are some more conversation starters you may want to consider:
Are you having thoughts about suicide? Don’t beat around the bush, ask the question directly so that nothing is lost in translation. Be prepared that they may say ‘yes’ and listen with compassion and empathy, and without judgement even if what they’re saying may upset you.
If they are struggling to openly talk prompt them with more open questions or reassure them you are there for them; How long have you been feeling this way? Have you felt this way before? I’m here to listen. I know talking about this can be tough, take your time. I’m here, we will find a way through this together.
Let your friend or loved one know that they aren’t alone and that it is okay to talk about their feelings and suicide. You’re not alone, a lot of people think about suicide. Thank you for having this conversation with me. I really appreciate you being honest and talking about this with me.
Make a plan
Being concerned and wanting to help a friend or loved one is only natural but remember to take care of your own mental wellbeing first. Treatments vary for all people and are often a combination of lifestyle changes, social support, psychological or talking therapies, and medical therapies. Making a mental health plan by seeking support from a GP and other professionals will help work out what treatment will work best for that person’s circumstances. Check out Head to Health for a list of mental health providers in Australia or visit where to find help and support in New Zealand.
- Beyond Blue – immediate support
- Lifeline – immediate support
- The Low Down – immediate support in New Zealand
- Mensline Australia – immediate support
- Black Dog Institute – support groups
- Headspace – support for young people
- The Alliance for Suicide Prevention Sunshine Coast offers a range of online courses and training for suicide alertness
- Try Black Dog Institute’s free online Mental Health Assessment
- Lifeline offers a range of toolkits and factsheets