What If Someone Is Suicidal?
The information provided below is from the Mental Health First Aid website
Please refer to question on what to do in Mental Health Crisis. Most people
who have committed suicide have done so when they have been alone. The risk of
suicide is greatly increased if the person has been drinking, is alone and/or
has ready access to means (gun, prescribed and non prescribed medication/drugs).
In this state, the person may act impulsively:
How can I tell if someone is feeling
- Assess or ask directly if the person is at risk of suicide.
- If situation is life threatening or dangerous, call 000 for emergency
services or call your local Mental Health Crisis Team or take the person to a
Hospital Emergency Department.
- If help has been called, stay with the person until help arrives.
- If emergency services are not needed, encourage/assist person to get
appropriate professional help.
- Encourage the person to talk - listen without judgement. Be polite and
- If the person is consuming alcohol or drugs, try to help him/her from
consuming any more.
- Try to ensure the person does not have ready access to the means to take
- Give reassurance about the short term nature of suicidal feelings.
It is important that you know the warning signs of
suicide. Signs that a person may be suicidal include:
should I talk with someone who is suicidal?
- threatening to hurt or kill themselves
- looking for ways to kill themselves: seeking access to pills, weapons, or
- talking or writing about death, dying or suicide
- rage, anger, seeking revenge
- acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without
- feeling trapped, like there's no way out
- increasing alcohol or drug use
- withdrawing from friends, family or society
- anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
- dramatic changes in mood
- giving away valuable items, money etc
- no reason for living, no sense of purpose in life
It is important
- tell the person that you care and that you want to help them
- express empathy for the person and what they are going through
- clearly state that thoughts of suicide are often associated with a treatable
mental health condition. This may give the person a sense of hope for the
- tell the person that thoughts of suicide are common and do not have to be
Suicidal thoughts are often a plea for help and a desperate
attempt to escape from problems and distressing feelings. Encourage the suicidal
person to do most of the talking, if they are able to. They need the opportunity
to talk about their feelings and reasons for wanting to die. It may be helpful
to talk about some of the specific problems the person is experiencing.
Discussing ways to deal with problems which seem insurmountable at the time can
be helpful, but do not attempt to "solve" the problems
How can I tell if the situation is
Firstly, you need to determine whether the person has a
definite intention to take their life, or whether they are having vague suicidal
thoughts such as "what's the point of going on?". To do this, you need to ask
the person if they have a plan for suicide. The three questions you need to ask
- have you decided how you will kill yourself?
- have you decided when you will do it?
- have you taken any steps to secure the things you would need to carry out
A higher level of planning indicates a more serious risk. However, you must
remember that the absence of a plan is not enough to ensure the person's safety.
All thoughts of suicide must be taken seriously.
Next, you need to know about the following risk factors:
How can I keep the person
- has the person been using alcohol or other drugs? The use of alcohol and
other drugs can make a person more susceptible to acting on impulse.
- has the person made a suicide attempt in the past? A previous suicide
attempt makes a person more likely to make a future suicide attempt.
- once you have established that the risk of suicide is present, you need to
take action to keep the person safe.
A person who is actively suicidal should not be left on
their own. If you can't stay with them, you need to arrange for someone else to
do so. Give the person a contact who is available at all times (such as a
telephone help line, a friend or family member who has agreed to help, or a
professional health worker).
It is important to help the suicidal
person think about people or other things that have supported them in the past,
and find out if these supports are still available. These might include a
doctor, psychologist or other mental health worker, family member or friend, or
a community group such as a club or church.
Do not use guilt and threats
to prevent suicide. For example, do not tell the person they will go to hell if
they die by suicide, or they will ruin other people's lives if they kill
What about professional help?
During the crisis.....
Mental Health professionals advocate always seeking
professional help, especially if the person is psychotic. If the suicidal person
has a weapon or is behaving aggressively, you must seek assistance from the
police in order to protect yourself. However, the person you are helping may be
very reluctant to involve a professional and, if the person is close to you, you
may be concerned about alienating them. In fact, some people who have
experienced suicidal thoughts feel that professional help is not always
After the crisis has passed.....
After the suicide crisis
has passed, ensure the person gets whatever psychological and medical help they
What if the person makes me promise not to tell anyone
You should never agree to keep a suicide plan secret.
However, you should respect the person's right to privacy and involve them in
decisions regarding who else knows about their suicidal intentions.
The person I am trying to help has injured themselves, but
insists they are not suicidal. What should I do?
injure themselves for reasons other than suicidal intent. This may be to relieve
unbearable anguish, to visualise their pain, to stop the feeling numbness, or
for other reasons. This can be distressing for others to see. There are
guidelines in this series entitled First Aid guidelines for deliberate
self-injury which can help you to understand and assist in this situation.