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Supporting someone who is struggling

It can often feel difficult to know how to help a friend or loved one who is currently struggling with thoughts to end their life. Although you can’t force someone to seek help, there are ways to to let them know that you’re there for them when they’re ready.

If you are worried about someone, use these tips to start a conversation.

Two friends having a conversation

Trigger warning: This post contains reference to suicide.

If someone you know is overwhelmed by suicidal thoughts and is at immediate risk of harming themselves or others, call 999.

- If you notice any warning signs, bring them up in a caring way. 

We can underestimate the power of the question “How are you?” when it’s asked with authenticity. Asking open-ended questions is a good way to encourage the person to tell you more. Using “I” statements is also a way of putting the focus on your feelings or beliefs, and feel far less defensive. “I noticed that…” can sound less assertive than “You look…”

- Be direct about using the word “suicide”. This can actually protect rather than harm them. 

When you ask directly, you validate how that person feels, and it shows you care. Be calm, and try not to appear shocked if the response is “yes” to asking “are you having suicidal thoughts?”

- Be patient. 

When someone is about to tell you their hardest truth, the words may not come easily. We can grow uncomfortable with pauses, but remember that a brief silence gives the person the opportunity to reflect and respond.

- Listen to understand, not to respond.

Be caring and non-judgmental in your words and body language.

- Encourage the person to seek support. 

Mind has a small booklet that lists resources that can help. The person may have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) through their employer. Apps like Stay Alive not only has resources you can find for the local postcode area, they also have links to safety plans and wellness plans.

- Look after your own wellbeing. 

Find support for yourself if it will help you to talk about your own feelings.

For information and useful helplines, please have a look at our Urgent Help section.

If you live in the centre of Southampton and are experience a mental health crisis, take a look at our service, The Lighthouse.

If you are an employer who would like your staff to learn about suicide and how to support others, take a look at our trusted Suicide Awareness Course.

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