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Whether it’s a family member, friend or someone in the workplace, the best way you can help support someone who appears at risk of suicide is to have a conversation. While everyone’s experience is different, there are a number of signs to look out for and some simple, positive steps you can take.

It’s a common myth that asking someone if they are suicidal will put the idea into their head. In reality, asking about suicide openly and directly is the only way to know if someone is at risk. There’s also no evidence that talking about suicide thoughts or behaviour is harmful.

What to look out for

How to check for risk

  1. Be prepared – have an idea of how you’ll approach the conversation, and the contact details for support services on hand, before having a conversation about suicide.
  2. Recognise, understand and assess warning signs and risk factors (including those listed above).
  3. Convey a caring attitude.
  4. Talk openly, and directly ask if they are suicidal. Don’t avoid using the word suicide; it’s important to ask the question without dread, and without expressing a negative judgement. You can ask a question that is direct and to the point. “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” “Are you thinking about taking your own life?”
  5. Ask questions to understand how immediate their risk is, including:

Create a safety plan

During the conversation, you can help the person you are supporting to create a safety plan to outline some strategies that will help keep them safe.
TIP: The BeyondNow app has a safety plan that can be completed on your phone or on a computer.

When discussing a safety plan, it’s useful to help the individual identify and write down the following:

Warning Signs

These might be changes in thoughts, moods or behaviours that suggest increased risk of suicide. Understanding warning signs can help someone take action early. Get them to list their warning signs.

Reasons to live

When a person is having thoughts or feelings about suicide, it’s easy for them to get caught up in the pain they are experiencing and forget the positives in their life. Thinking about their reasons to live may help change their focus. Get them to write down the things in their life, large or small, that are important to them and worth living for.

Safe environment

Having a safe space is important in times of suicidal ideation. This includes making the environment around them safe or removing themselves from unsafe situations.
Get them to identify safety strategies to ensure they are in a safe place. For example, avoiding drinking when feeling suicidal, avoiding seeing people who may upset them, giving their medication to someone else to look after.

Activities to distract

Suicidal thoughts can make it hard to focus on anything else. Identifying activities that distract from these thoughts is important.
Get them to list some activities they can do by themselves to distract their thoughts. For example, going for a walk, exercising, seeing a movie, playing with a pet, listening to music, taking a shower, or practising relaxation techniques like breathing or mindfulness.

Connecting with people and places

It can be hard to socialise when struggling with suicidal thoughts, however just being around other people can improve mood or make them feel safer.
Get them to identify people they can spend time with or social places they like to go.

Friends and family

Trusted friends and family members can help the individual stay safe and feel better by providing support, or just being there to listen.
Get them to list supportive people they feel comfortable talking to when feeling suicidal.

Professional help and support

If they don’t feel comfortable talking to a friend or family member about their suicidal feelings, they might be more comfortable speaking to a trained counsellor. Remind them that professional help is always available when things become too much. Help them to list appropriate professional support they can draw on in times of need. These can include existing mental health practitioners, their doctor, crisis teams (via 000), and local hospital emergency departments.

Include the following for immediate phone support:

Life Line 13 11 14
Suicidal call back service 1300 651 251
beyondblue support service 1300 22 4636

Take care of yourself too

Talking about suicide isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly important. Make sure to take care of yourself too by reaching out to your support network, and taking some time out for yourself. The help lines we’ve listed above also provide support and guidance for friends, family and supporters of people at risk of suicide.

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