World Suicide Prevention Day: What to do if you suspect someone is suicidal

Today, September 10, 2021, is World Suicide Prevention Day.

This is a time to raise awareness about preventing suicide – on a cultural and individual level.

To mark the day, our mental health podcast, Mentally Yours, has released a special episode exploring how to help someone who is suicidal – and why it’s so important that we get past our fear around this tricky topic and get talking.

We spoke with Andy Baines-Vosper, a Samaritans listening volunteer, for his advice on what to do if we suspect someone might be experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Know the signs

It’s important to note that some people won’t show more obvious signs that they’re struggling.

That’s why it’s so important, says Andy, to notice ‘any small or large change in behaviour’, and reach out to friends when you know they’re experiencing challenges in their life.

There are, however, some general symptoms of suicidal ideation that you can keep an eye out for:

  • Feeling restless and agitated
  • Feeling angry and aggressive
  • Feeling tearful
  • Being tired or lacking in energy
  • Not wanting to talk to or be with people
  • Not wanting to do things they usually enjoy
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings
  • Finding it hard to cope with everyday things
  • Not replying to messages or being distant
  • Talking about feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless
  • Talking about feeling trapped by life circumstances they can’t see a way out of, or feeling unable to escape their thoughts
  • A change in routine, such as sleeping or eating more or less than normal
  • Engaging in risk-taking behaviour, like gambling or violence

‘You might not always be able to spot the signs, especially now, if you’re seeing people less,’ Andy tells us. ‘As such, try recognising circumstances that might trigger our inability to cope – such as job stresses, loneliness, financial worries, loss or grief.’

Ask the question

It can feel like ‘suicide’ is a scary, banned word. Some worry that asking if a person is experiencing suicidal thoughts will upset them, or even, as Andy puts it, ‘plant the seed’.

‘Research suggests that’s not the reality,’ Andy clarifies.

If you’re worried, don’t be afraid to ask if someone is suicidal. Show them it’s okay to talk and give them an opening to be honest about how they’re feeling.

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