Suicide: worried about someone?

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This information is a suicide prevention factsheet for families, whānau, friends, colleagues, teachers and classmates of people who are distressed or showing suicidal behaviours (eg, attempted suicide, self-harm and suicidal thinking).

If you are wanting help for yourself please visit: Suicide: coping with suicidal thoughts in our A to Z or follow the in crisis instructions below.

If you're worried that someone might be thinking about suicide, don't be afraid to ask them directly.

If someone has thoughts or feelings about suicide, it's important to take them seriously. It can be really hard to tell someone you care about that you are feeling suicidal. If someone tells you they are thinking about suicide, thank them for telling you, and invite them to keep talking with you. Let them know there is help available to them. Encourage them to get help and talk to someone about what they are going through.

A person who is thinking about suicide might not ask for help, but that doesn’t mean that help isn’t wanted. They might feel ashamed of how they're feeling, like they don't deserve help, or like no-one can help them. People who feel suicidal often feel like they are alone and that their family, whānau and friends would be better off without them. Most people who attempt suicide don’t want to die – they just want their pain to end or can't see another way out of their situation.

Lots of people feel suicidal at some time in their lives. It can be impossible to have hope that things will get better.

Support from people who care about them, and connection with their own sense of culture, identity and purpose, can help them to find a way through.

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In a crisis or emergency

If someone has attempted suicide or you're worried about their immediate safety, do the following:

  • Call your local mental health crisis assessment team or go with them to the emergency department (ED) at your nearest hospital.
  • If they are an immediate physical danger to themselves or others, call 111.
  • Stay with them until support arrives.
  • Remove any obvious means of suicide they might use (e.g. guns, medication, car keys, knives, rope).
  • Try to stay calm and let them know you care.
  • Keep them talking: listen and ask questions without judging.
  • Make sure you are safe.

If you think someone may be suicidal, ask them. It could save their life.

  • Asking about suicide will not put the thought in their head.
  • Ask them directly about their thoughts of suicide and what they are planning. If they have a specific plan, they need help right away.
  • Ask them if they would like to talk about what’s going on for them with you or someone else.They might not want to open up straight away, but letting them know you are there for them is a big help.
  • Listen and don’t judge. Take them seriously and let them know you care.
  • Help them to find and access the support they need from people they trust: friends, family, kaumātua, religious, community or cultural leaders, or professionals.
  • Don't leave them alone – make sure someone stays with them until they get help.
  • Support them to access professional help, like a doctor or counsellor, as soon as possible. Offer to help them make an appointment, and go with them if you can.
  • If they don't get the help they need the first time, keep trying. Ask them if they would like your help explaining what they need to a professional.

Who is most at risk of suicide?

People from all backgrounds can feel suicidal. Lots of people go through this. Someone may be at higher risk if they have:

  • attempted suicide before
  • been experiencing depression, bipolar disorder or another mental illness
  • an addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling
  • a serious physical illness
  • just started or stopped taking medication for a mental health problem
  • lost a friend or family member to suicide
  • been a victim of violence, bullying or sexual abuse
  • a court case coming up or a recent prison sentence
  • been judged, shamed or put under a lot of pressure
  • no strong relationships with family, whānau, friends or community
  • no sense of their own culture, identity or purpose in life
  • been through a major life change, like moving to a different country, coming out as gay or transgender, or retiring from work
  • had a major loss or disappointment, like someone close to them dying, failing exams or being dropped from their sports team, or having their refugee status declined
  • recently broken up with their partner or lost custody of their children
  • been struggling to find work, lost their job recently, or had serious money problems
  • friends, family or people around them who don't support who they are, like their sexuality, gender identity, culture or religion.

Signs to look for in someone you are worried about

Most people thinking about taking their own life will try to let someone know, but they often won't say so directly.

If someone shows one or more of these signs, it doesn't necessarily mean they are suicidal, but they may need support. You might notice they:

  • tell you they want to die or kill themselves
  • access things they could use to hurt themselves, like a rope or gun
  • read or write about suicide online, or post photos or videos about suicide
  • become obsessed with death
  • become isolated or withdrawn from family, whānau and friends
  • don't seem to be coping with any problems they may be having
  • have changes in mood – becoming depressed, angry or enraged
  • hurt themselves – for example, cutting skin or taking an overdose
  • feel worthless, guilty, whakamā or ashamed
  • have no hope for the future
  • use drugs or alcohol to cope with difficult feelings or thoughts
  • lose or gain a lot of weight, or have unusual eating patterns
  • sleep a lot more than usual, or stop getting enough sleep
  • seem to have lost interest in life, or things they used to enjoy
  • give away possessions, pay back debts or 'tie up loose ends'
  • stop taking their medication
  • suddenly seem calm or happy after they have been depressed or suicidal.

Some people who are suicidal might not show these signs, and some warning signs may not be obvious. People who feel suicidal might try to hide what they are going through or pretend they are okay.

If you think that someone might be at risk, pay attention to changes in their behavior, trust your instincts and ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide. 

How to support someone’s recovery

If you're supporting someone who is recovering after they have made a suicide attempt, or have felt suicidal, be prepared to be there, offer support and stay involved. Recovery can take time.

  • You might need to be prepared to have difficult conversations about what's going on in their life and how they are feeling.
  • Keep listening to them and don’t avoid talking about suicide or the hard things in their life.
  • Don't give up on them and try not to lose contact with them, even if it seems like they are ignoring you.
  • Help them feel there is hope of things getting better – identify positive things in their life.
  • If they don’t want to talk with you, ask other people you both trust to support them – friends, family or whānau members, youth workers or others.
  • Help them to access professional help, like a doctor or counsellor. You could offer to go with them or help them to make appointments.Let them know about free counselling services like Lifeline and Youthline and give them the contact details .
  • Encourage and support them to do the things they enjoy, keep physically active and connect with others.
  • Help them identify any ways they can change their lifestyle to restore balance. This might mean cutting back on alcohol or drugs, doing some exercise, making time for themselves, or getting enough sleep.
  • Accept them for who they are and let them know you care.
  • When they're ready, support them to make plans for their future, solve problems and set goals.

Caring for yourself

Remember to take care of yourself when you are caring for others.

  • Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating properly and exercising.
  • Be kind to yourself, and take time out when you need to. Being in this situation can be very difficult, and you can’t do everything.
  • Find someone you can talk to about this – a friend or family member you trust, or a counsellor.
  • It's not helpful to blame yourself if someone close to you attempts suicide.

How to build a support network

It’s important to involve others to help you and the person you're supporting – don't try to do everything yourself.

To build a support network:

  • Ask the person you're supporting to tell you what they need, what works for them and who should be involved.
  • Your support network might include cultural elders, religious leaders or community groups they're part of, as well as friends, family and whānau. It might include people who have been through something similar to the person you're supporting, and can share how they got through it
  • Bring the group together in a safe space.
  • Talk openly and honestly about the situation.
  • Talk to them about what they will do if they feel suicidal again, how they plan to keep safe, and how others can help with this.
  • Develop a plan together to support the person – identify how different people can help.Get professional help if you need it. Talk to your local doctor, medical centre, community mental health team or counselling service.

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