Caring for someone with suicidal thoughts

If you are caring for someone who has suicidal thoughts we have some tips to help you talk to them about how they are feeling and to look after yourself. 

Ask the person you are caring for about the thoughts they are having

You may get scared about asking someone if they have thoughts of suicide. You might think it will encourage the person to actually go on and take their own life.  But for many people who have survived a suicide attempt, or been helped to avoid attempting suicide, the one common thing they share is that someone asked that hard question: “Do you feel suicidal?”, of “Have you made any plans to kill yourself?”  

While acknowledging these are difficult questions, those who have been helped have said it gave them time to think about what they were planning, time to talk to someone, get help and feel safe.

If you are caring for someone who is having suicidal thoughts, here are some tips for you to try:

C – Calm the situation by remaining calm yourself

Check what the person is feeling. It’s OK to ask “Are you feeling suicidal?”, “Have you made any plans to kill yourself?” or to say, “It’s OK to talk to me about how you are feeling”. 

By asking these questions you are sending out an invitation to let the other person talk about how they are feeling, or what plans they may have made.  You are letting that other person know you are there for them. People who have experienced suicidal thoughts can find it  a relief when someone asks a question about whether they are thinking about suicide, as long as the question is not asked in a judgmental, angry or frightened way. However, don’t pressure the person to speak.  It is OK that you have asked the question, if the person doesn’t answer just be with them and don’t push too hard.

A – Actively listen

Listen and believe that the person's feelings are very real.  Try not to judge them or use guilt or argue with them.  If you feel comfortable, and confident to do so, clarify that you have heard them correctly in a calm, neutral tone.  Sometimes, when a person hears back what they have just said it can make them think and reflect.

Do not try and persuade the person that they have a lot to live for or change their minds by pointing out all the good things in life.  This person is not in any state to be able to see positives, plus you are sending out the message that you are not listening.  

Do not give advice or try to solve the person’s problems.

Don’t invade their personal space.  Try and give them space and try not to make sudden movements which might panic them.   Remember, just by listening you are helping.

R – Reassure the person that you will stay with them, that you are listening to them

Don’t make any judgements or interrogate them or take personal offence. It can be hurtful to hear someone think that all is lost, and life is not worth living, especially if, as their carer, you have given much time and energy looking after them. Remember, suicide is not about any other person other than the one with the suicidal thoughts.  It is their pain they want to end.

Reassure the person that there is help out there. Let them know that most people who have had thoughts of suicide recover and feel better and you will be there during this time.

E – Encourage the person to seek help

Maybe tell them about helplines they could try (see below) , or contact their GP for them and encourage them to talk to their GP or a a member of the mental health team, if they have one.  Let the person talk through what issues are present and encourage them to look at alternatives.  

If the person is drinking alcohol encourage them to stop, maybe offer them an alternative such as tea, coffee or water.  Do not put yourself in danger though by trying to take alcohol away from the person if they don't want to stop.

R – Remember you!

If the person is in immediate danger of dying, dial 999 and tell emergency service what has happened, or what you suspect may have happened.  Keep yourself safe. If the person has a knife, or other weapon, do not try and get it off them.  Do not give the person alcohol or drugs and, if safe to do so, do not leave them alone while waiting for help to arrive.  Even if the person has locked themselves in a room, keep talking to them and keep reassuring them you are there and want to help and listen.

Once the immediate crisis is over, take time to think about yourself.  It is not easy to be with someone who is actively suicidal, and it is OK to feel exhausted, angry, upset or scared.  These are all very natural feelings but find someone you can talk to about how you feel, whether that be another family member, friend, carer support, other carers or spiritual person. Find a Carers Trust carer service.

Don’t blame yourself, you did the best you could do at a difficult time.  If there is no one you can talk to, consider using one of the helplines below or write down how you are feeling, listen to some favourite music, go for a walk or just take time out to be kind to yourself.  Above all, seek help if you feel it is all becoming too much for you.

Try and remember the word CARER and use the tips above to help. 

Getting support

  • Breathing Space is a confidential phoneline for anyone in Scotland feeling low, anxious or depressed. Tel: 0800 838 587.   
  • Samaritans, is a UK wide organisation if you need someone to talk to.  Whatever you're going through, a Samaritan will face it with you. Tel: 116 123.
  • Childline is a private and confidential service  for anyone under 19 in the UK where you can talk about anything.  Tel: 0800 1111.
  • The Silver Line is a confidential helpline providing information, friendship and advice to older people, anywhere in the UK . Tel: 0800 470 8090
  • Cruse Bereavement Care offers support for people across the UK after the death of someone close. Tel: 0845 600 2227
  • Find a Carers Trust carer service for local support.

Thanks to Karen Martin, our Mental Health Development Coordinator, for writing this page.

Date revised: 16/08/2019