Taking suicidal thoughts seriously

“When I’m gone … “

“Everything is getting too much for me right now!”

Suicidal thoughts can be enormously distressing, upsetting or frightening – both when others express them and when these thoughts suddenly pop into your own head.

What to do about suicidal thoughts?

Many of us have thought about what would happen if we didn’t wake up tomorrow or if we ended our own lives. Such thoughts are quite normal sometimes. But if these thoughts keep coming back to you, if you can’t get away from them and/or if you suffer from them, then help is needed.

It is an important step to open up and tell another person about your thoughts. Men, in particular, look for solutions to problems more often in action than in communication. But having such a conversation is an active action to change your situation for the better.

Maybe there is someone in your family you trust? Friends or acquaintances may also be just the person to talk to about the fact that you are not well.

“I don’t want to burden my family or friends.”

Maybe you have a nice coach at sports, or maybe your co-worker who you’ve worked with for years is a confidant for you? Or is there a guidance counselor or social worker at school you can talk to?

If you find it easier to talk to someone you don’t know, you can turn to the telephone service of the Berlin Crisis Service or the telephone counselling service (“TelefonSeelsorge”), for example. If you don’t like talking on the phone, you can also contact a chat or mail counselling service or drop by a local counselling center. You can find different offers in our help finder. You can decide which support you want: online, offline, anonymous or in person.

No matter which way you choose to communicate, you don’t have to be ashamed of your thoughts.
Nor should you be ashamed of seeking professional help.
It’s an important first step in getting your life back on track.
And it’s something you can be proud of.

“Out of your head.”

“Talk about your thoughts.”, “Talk about your feelings.”, “Share what’s bothering you with trusted people.” – it all sounds so simple. But we know how hard it can be to talk about something as big as suicidal thoughts.

To make it a little easier for you, we’ve put together some helpful thoughts and a rough structure for how you might have such a conversation. Keep in mind that it’s really all about structure. How you say things and what phrases you use are entirely up to you.

What is important in a conversation about suicidal thoughts?

  • First of all, you’ve decided to seek support. That’s a big step, maybe even the most important step. And it’s not a sign of weakness, quite the opposite. It’s really great.
  • A conversation gives you the opportunity to get support and gives others the opportunity to support you.
  • Create time and space for such a conversation. Don’t discuss such a topic in passing. So, make sure you have enough time and a place where you can talk undisturbed.
  • Choose a place where you feel comfortable – maybe it’s an office space, or maybe you prefer to take a walk during such a conversation? This is easier for many people because you are not facing each other head on and pauses in the conversation are more pleasant if you can let your eyes wander through nature.
  • If you want, you can write or tell the other person in advance that you are not feeling well at the moment and that you would like to talk to them about it. Then they are prepared, and you avoid that they feel ambushed. But you don’t have to.

Examples of how to start a conversation about suicidal thoughts.

  • “I don’t really know what’s going on, but something is wrong. I don’t have any strength left, sometimes I just wish I was dead.”
  • “I’m not doing well right now and I don’t know how to go on living.”
  • “I often think about the fact that I don’t want to live anymore. I want you to know.”
  • “I have been having suicidal thoughts lately. I wish I could talk to you about it without you telling me what to do. Is that okay with you?”

What do you want to accomplish with a conversation about suicide?

Be aware ahead of time what you want the goal of this conversation to be. Of course, you want to get something off your chest and share your fears. You probably don’t want to hear accusations from your counterpart, nor do you want to be dismissed with empty phrases and unhelpful tips. But beyond that? The following points, for example, could be a goal of such a conversation.

  • Visit a counselling center together.
  • Fill out an emergency plan together. You can find out exactly what this might look like a little further down this page.
  • Plan further talks.
  • Make binding agreements – for example, that you will not harm yourself until your next meeting.

Possible reactions

For many people, talking openly about death and suicide is quite unfamiliar. This is because we have not learned it and are not used to it. Try to keep in mind that such a conversation is new and also difficult for you and the person you are talking to.

Ideally, the person you are talking to will know what to do and how to support you. However, they may react quite differently than you expect.

Maybe they are afraid of saying the wrong thing, maybe they feel overwhelmed. But this has nothing to do with you. You have not failed and have not done anything wrong.

Talk to them about your discomfort and what you expected from the conversation. Talking to each other helps in this case, too. However, they may be much faster than you and overwhelm you with way too many tips that you didn’t even want. That can happen. Talk to each other about it.

You can also show the other person this page. Here they can also find information and tips for relatives of people with suicidal thoughts.

Self-Test: Suicidality Questionnaire

Many people with suicidal thoughts want a self-test or questionnaire that tells them how acute their suicidal thoughts are, whether their crisis is “real enough” or “big enough” to seek support.

In science, people often distinguish between different stages of suicidality. The first stage is a desire to rest, pause, or stop, followed by the stages of (passive) death wishes, suicidal ideation, a suicidal intent with preparations, and finally the stage of suicidal action. Perhaps you recognize yourself in one of these stages or have already experienced several stages.

However, we have deliberately not included a self-test here because it doesn’t matter which stage you are in: If you feel you need help, you have the right to seek support, no matter what level an “objective” test places you at. Your subjective feeling is the most important criterion. Your life is worth addressing this crisis. And it’s better to do it now than later.

An emergency plan

If your feelings and thoughts are scaring you, an emergency plan can give you peace of mind. You can write down important warning signs, phone numbers, contacts, and strategies to help you through acute suicidal episodes. You can print out this plan and always take it with you. It is a good idea not to fill out this plan alone, but together with someone you trust. This can be someone from your private environment or a professional, such as a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist. If you want to contact a counseling center, you can also ask there if you can fill out the emergency plan together.

Life after a suicide attempt

A suicide attempt is a turning point. Both in the individual’s life and in their circle of family and friends.

As a survivor, you may be confronted with very different feelings after a suicide attempt: from the waking shock of your own act to the devastating realization that it didn’t work.

Medical care

It is important that you receive good medical and psychological care so that your attempt can be processed and integrated physically and psychologically. It would not be unusual if you continue to have suicidal thoughts. Accept the support that is offered to you and keep at it. The causes of suicidal thoughts are many and it often just takes time for your condition to improve.

Between shock and empathy

But a suicide attempt often pulls the rug out from under even family members and friends. The feelings can range from horror to shame and guilt to understanding empathy.

On this page, we primarily address those affected by – sometimes acute – suicidal thoughts. Accordingly, our choice of words is direct. For relatives and friends, it can be frightening and disturbing to read so openly about the subject of suicide.

Those indirectly affected also have to come to terms with such an act and often need support. Talking and exchanging ideas with other people who have had similar experiences can be a good way of coming to terms with what has happened.

On our page “Help for relatives” we address all those who have been indirectly affected by a suicide. There you will find a lot of information that can help you to categorize and process what has happened.

With our help finder you can quickly find out about self-help groups, discussion groups and associations for those affected directly in your area.