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

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

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.

How to use ALGEE

ALGEE is a device used by mental health first aiders, and can be a helpful framework for starting a conversation about mental health.

Here’s how it’s done:

ASSESS for risk of suicide or harm: Ask the person if they are considering suicide and assess the urgency of the situation with these questions:

  • Are you having thoughts of suicide?
  • Do you have a plan to kill yourself?
  • Have you decided when you’d do it?
  • Do you have everything you need to carry out your plan?

If they have a plan and are ready to carry out that plan, call 999 immediately. How you respond to other answers will depend on the situation, but always call 999 if you’re unsure. It’s better to be safe that for someone to lose their life.

LISTEN nonjudgmentally: If the person does not appear to be in a crisis, encourage them to talk about what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling.

GIVE reassurance and information: Reassurance is crucial, as people having suicidal ideation may not have much hope. Clearly state to them that suicidal thoughts are often associated with a treatable mental illness, and if you feel comfortable, you can also offer to help them get the appropriate treatment. You can also tell them that thoughts of suicide are common, and that you don’t have to act on them.

ENCOURAGE appropriate professional help: If you are concerned for the person’s immediate safety, call 999.

If you’re concerned but it’s not an immediately urgent situation, make sure the person has a safety contact available at all times, whether it’s a loved one or mental health professional.

ENCOURAGE self-care and support strategies: Ask the person to think about what has helped them in the past and create a crisis plan.


‘Try not to give advice,’ says Andy. ‘If you are having a conversation with someone that may be struggling, the most important thing is to listen, and to give that person time to explain their thoughts and their feelings.

‘Try not to rush in with your own comments or judgments, saying things like “you’ll be fine” or “things can’t be that bad”.

‘You don’t have to be an expert to help someone who is struggling.

‘The best thing to do is reach out. It won’t make things worse, and being able to listen will really, really help.’

SHUSH – Samaritans‘ active listening tips:

  • Show you care: Give the person your full attention – put away your phone.
  • Have patience: It may take time for someone to open up. Wait.
  • Use open questions: Use open questions that need more than a yes/no answer, and follow up with questions like ‘tell me more’.
  • Say it back: Repeat back what someone has said to check you’ve understood without offering a solution or interrupting
  • Have courage: Don’t be put off by a negative response and, most importantly, don’t feel you have to fill a silence.

Call 999 in an immediate crisis

If you think someone is in immediate danger, the quickest way to get help is to call an ambulance on 999.

It might also be appropriate to try and move the person away from a dangerous location, for example, if you are able and it is safe to do so.

You can listen to Mentally Yours on Spotify, Audioboom, and Apple Podcasts.

Need support? Contact the Samaritans

For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email, visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.


Credit: Original article published here.

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