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Suicide Prevention Awareness: How to support a friend experiencing suicidal thoughts

Updated: Jan 2, 2022

By Tanesha Blackman

As someone who has dealt with suicidal thoughts in the past, the biggest thing for me was knowing that I had a safe space where I could express my emotions and concerns. Speaking up about this isn’t always easy but knowing that there were people willing to be patient with me did help.

Talking about suicide can feel overwhelming and uncomfortable. However, if it requires uncomfortable conversations so we can take practical steps to ensure of someone’s safety, and get them the help they need, then let’s continue. Research tells us that suicide is the leading cause of death in young adults. Each time I read these findings, I feel alarmed. It really indicates the severity of this challenge. However, it also shows that we have a lot of work to do, because suicide is preventable. Awareness helps to prevent individuals from taking their own lives.

Improving your awareness involves understanding the triggers that may lead someone to experience suicidal thoughts, knowing the warning signs to look out for, and how you can facilitate or create a safe space for individuals.

So let’s start off with the triggers. Why may someone want to take their own life?

There are countless reasons why people decide to take their life, here are 5 reasons:

1. A mental health condition

A common symptom of various mental illnesses is suicidal thoughts

2. A life changing event has occurred

The event could be something they feel is too overwhelming or has thrown their life off course

3. A traumatic event has occurred

The effect trauma has on the brain and the body can be significant. The emotional stress that a traumatic event has caused can be too much for someone to deal with alone (a life changing event can also be traumatic)

4. They feel hopeless

A person may feel as if there is no hope, as though their life can’t get better or they will never escape a situation or feeling

5. They feel like a failure

Perhaps they haven't achieved their dreams or accomplished their goals, or they feel they haven’t lived up to everyone else’s standards.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list.

Even when we look around to see what's going on in the world around us, with the current climate, the global pandemic, it is understandable that the mental health and well-being of many people have been impacted. Not to forget the pressures on mental health services. So when it comes to suicide prevention, we all have a role to play, and that is why awareness is essential.

Here are 5 warnings signs you can look out for:

1. A person isolating themselves/becoming more withdrawn

2. Behaviours that can be described as reckless or dangerous

For example excessive alcohol intake or other drugs, gambling or spending money unwisely, self-harm etc.

3. Frequent talk about death, or harming themselves or suicide itself

4. Someone going from being depressed and anxious to suddenly calm

5. Someone expressing self-hatred and displaying behaviours attached to low self esteem

So how can you support? If someone expresses that they are experiencing suicidal thoughts or you notice the signs:

1. See: Recognise why the individual may be at risk of suicide and listen to them

2. Say: Lett them know that you are there for them and talk to someone if you are concerned

3. Signpost: Help them to keep safe for now and then direct them to professional support (mental health professionals trained to support)

For people who may experience suicidal thoughts often, it can also be helpful to create an action plan with them that can be of great uses in a crisis situation. This plan simply outlines the steps the individual has agreed to implement should they experience any suicidal thoughts. The plan should include potential triggers, with safe coping mechanisms and emergency contact numbers such as: family member/friend, GP, NHS 111 service, helpline (e.g. Samaritans ).

Finally, here are two key things I believe are important for you to remember when it comes to suicide prevention:

1. Suicide is a sensitive topic

There are many instances where people are made to feel guilty or selfish for having these thoughts, but remember that person is going through a difficult time. They are suffering and for the most part can see no other way out. Thus it is important to empathise and try and comprehend the underlying reasons – the real reasons that they want to take their life.

2. Make sure you are also receiving support

As a supporter, it is also important for you to be looking after your well-being, particularly when dealing with difficult situations.

Above all, remember to be kind, patient and empathetic. Having compassion for others is important, as you never know what someone is going through. By reassuring someone who is going through a tough time that you are there for them if they need to talk, may seem like a small gesture, but it can make a big difference.

If you would like to learn more about Suicide Prevention Awareness, sign up for the next Inside Out Wellbeing online event on 10th September 2020, in support of this year’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Day.

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