Suicidality – Addressing fears and concerns
Talking can save lives
Talking about suicide – overcoming your doubts
It can be very frightening and challenging to suspect or learn that a loved one is thinking about suicide / is suicidal. After all, it always means dealing with issues of your own such as death, despair and hopelessness . However, it is important to understand that your willingness to talk about it can be crucial for suicide prevention.
By raising the issue, showing compassion and offering your support, you may be able to save a life. On this page we want to give you some tips on how to approach such a conversation, what you could say and what additional support services you can access.
But remember: you are not a professional. It is important not to take the risk alone. Turn to professional support services in acute risk situations, when you are at a loss or when you are stressed yourself.
Recognise the warning signs of suicidality
A person with suicidal thoughts can signal in many different ways – consciously and unconsciously – that they need help. Such signals include
- When someone says “it would be easier for everyone if I wasn’t there”.
- When someone suddenly seems sadder, more irritable or more aggressive.
- When someone withdraws, says goodbye or gives away objects.
You can find a longer list of warning signs on the page „Recognising suicidality“
If you notice one or more of these warning signs, you should take action.
Statements such as “I can’t take it any more” or “I don’t want to live any more” should always be taken seriously
– even if they are supposedly said jokingly.
How do I have a conversation about suicide?
Beforehand: self-reflection and knowledge
Before you start the conversation, it can give you confidence to prepare yourself for this difficult topic. You can find out about crises and suicidal thoughts on this website and look at possible support services that you can recommend directly to the person if needed. You can get many more concrete tips in our video tutorial “Talking about it”.
Feel inside yourself – what are your fears and worries when you think about addressing suicidal thoughts? Hopefully we can alleviate some of your worries with our information. One thing is certain: It is always right to ask. Try to be attentive, appreciative and open with the person you are talking to.
Find the right time and place
Find a quiet place for the conversation. Choose a time when both parties have enough time, without distractions or time pressure.
A sensitive approach
You can start the conversation by emphasising your concern and interest in the person’s well-being. So for example:
“I’ve noticed you’ve been acting differently lately. I’m worried about you.”
Be sensitive and choose your words carefully. Using “I” statements can also help you avoid accusations and blame. Less helpful, for example, would be phrases like:
“You don’t even contact me anymore”.
“You’re always in a bad mood lately.”
Calling a spade a spade – use the term suicide.
Addressing suicidal thoughts and intentions directly during the conversation is extremely important. On the one hand, you need to know what is actually going on if you want to support someone. On the other hand, it is often very relieving for the person concerned to be able to tell someone about these thoughts. Ask about suicidal thoughts and also about very specific intentions, plans and preparations, for example:
“Do you ever think about not wanting to go on living?”
“Do you know when or how you want to take your own life?”
“Have you prepared anything for this?”
Example of a conversation
How might such a conversation proceed? Every conversation will be different because every person is different. But to give you a concrete idea, here is a possible dialogue.
You: “Hello [name], how are you? I’ve been feeling like you’ve had something on your mind lately and I’m a little worried about you.”
Person: “No, I don’t think so. Everything’s fine. Why?”
You: “You seem pretty withdrawn lately. So sad and somehow absent. I just wanted to see how you were doing.”
Person: “Oh, I don’t know! I don’t know either. Somehow I don’t feel like myself any more. Different. Somehow – empty.”
You: “That must be quite a burden. How long has it been like that? If you want to talk about it or get something off your chest, I’ll be happy to listen!”
Person: “And what good is that going to do me? It won’t change anything!”
You: “Maybe. But sometimes it helps to let off steam or to see another perspective in the conversation.”
Person: “As if that makes any sense.”
You: “Why do you think that doesn’t make sense? What would be your alternative?”
Person: “There isn’t one! It’s all pointless anyway.”
You: “That sounds pretty bleak. I’m going to ask cautiously: Do you sometimes have thoughts in which you want to do something to yourself?”
Person: “And what if I did? You couldn’t do anything about it.”
You: “If that were the case, I would want to be there for you and help you. May I ask you specifically if you are thinking about suicide?”
Person: “Sometimes I really do have such thoughts.”
You: “Thank you for being so open and honest with me. I imagine these thoughts are terrible. What exactly are these thoughts?”
Person: “It’s all getting too much for me. It feels like everything is collapsing on me. I just don’t see any way out.”
You: “I’m very sorry about that. If you are thinking about not wanting to go on living: Do you have a plan for how you would end your life and have you already prepared something for that?”
Person: “No, not at all. I don’t think I would really do that, but I just can’t anymore.”
You: “Could you imagine getting professional help?”
Person: “I don’t know if any strangers could help me.”
You: “I don’t know that either, but if you want, I’d be happy to support you in finding a suitable offer of help. I would also be happy to call a hotline with you or accompany you to a counselling centre if that makes it easier for you. I’m happy to be there for you and I want you to know that you’re not alone with suicidal thoughts either.”
You can find out how to start a conversation if you are having suicidal thoughts yourself at the following link:
Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
Make it clear to your counterpart that you are there, that you want to help and that he or she can trust you. But also show your limits – both your emotional limits and your subject-specific limits. You are probably not a professional who talks about suicide every day. And maybe you are overwhelmed by the situation yourself. You can communicate this and refer to professional services.
But also signal that you cannot and will not make any promises that could endanger the person’s life. Communicate openly that you will not comply with a request not to call for help in the event of a potential suicide attempt. These are boundaries that you can and must draw.