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10 September 2021

How to support someone who is having suicidal thoughts

To mark World Suicide Prevention Day, our Senior Clinical Adviser, Dr Fiona Pienaar, explores some of the ways we can support the people in our lives who might be struggling with their mental health and suicidal thoughts.

Suicide is incredibly complex. When someone is struggling with their mental health and having suicidal thoughts, they are often experiencing a number of different life stressors that are unique to them. This makes coming up with effective ways to prevent suicide equally as challenging.

Something we do know is that one of the most significant challenges that can lead to people thinking about taking their own life is an absence of connectedness. Connectedness refers to the relationships we create with the people in our lives and the support we receive from them. When someone believes this is missing from their life, it can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, and it can feel like nobody cares about you. This can in turn make a person feel very vulnerable, especially if they are also trying to cope with life’s many stressors, and can intensify feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

A third of conversations we have with people who text Shout 85258 for support mention suicide. We support people who are having suicidal thoughts, people whose lives are at imminent risk and people who are concerned for a friend or loved one.

Reaching out to Shout provides people with a vital moment of connection. It is important to recognise that most people who are thinking about suicide do not want to die. They want their pain to end and cannot see a way out of the situation they are in. They are often feeling isolated and disconnected from everyone. By reaching out and connecting, we are able to extend a hand of support and give people hope. By listening to them, we can give them an opportunity to tell their story and have someone else witness it.

If you notice that someone in your life, perhaps a family member, friend, colleague, acquaintance or even a stranger, is struggling to cope and you are worried about their mental health, you can also provide this moment of connection.

Their struggle might not be very obvious but it could be that you have noticed something is different. Perhaps they have become more withdrawn or quiet, they may not be engaging as they used to socially, their mood may have changed, they might be using drugs or alcohol more often, or they might be starting to take more risks.

Whatever it is that you have noticed, there are a number of ways you can try to support someone you are concerned about:

  • Reach out and start a conversation. It might sound simple, but ask them if they are okay. Encourage them to tell you their story. You will not make things worse by asking but you may well give the person hope that someone is connecting with them, that someone cares.
  • Take them seriously. If they are having thoughts of suicide, it’s important to take them seriously. They may struggle to ask for help because they are ashamed or they might think that they don’t deserve it or that they don’t believe that anyone can help them.
  • You do not have to have solutions. The most effective thing you can do is connect with them by listening, without interrupting, without jumping in to give advice, without talking about yourself. Give them your full attention. Listen and reflect what you are hearing with compassion, no judgement, and with kindness.
  • Encourage them to get help. Knowing which mental health resources and services are available, or where to find that information, is helpful. The Heads Together campaign is a great place to start, and remember that our Shout 85258 text messaging support service is available 24/7.
  • Encourage them to call 999 if you think their life is at imminent risk. If you think that they need immediate emergency help, encourage them to call 999. Or if they are unable to help themselves, you can contact the emergency services on their behalf.

By reaching out to the people in our lives who we think might be struggling with their mental health, we can provide a vital moment of connection and, ultimately, hope.

Support with suicidal thoughts

There may be times in our lives where we feel unable to cope with our problems. If, however, these thoughts are starting to become more regular, and you are actively starting to think about taking your own life, you need to get support immediately.

Shout 85258 is a free and confidential text messaging support service that is here for moments when you are dealing with suicidal thoughts and need support to get to a calmer place. Text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258 any time of the day or night to speak to a trained volunteer.

If your life is at imminent risk, please call 999 immediately.

Text ‘SHOUT’ to


here for you 24/7