What to say
When you talk about suicide with people who are suicidal or have attempted suicide, you will learn more about what is really going on for them. If you cannot have this conversation, then find someone who can. The best thing you can do is be there to listen to them.
Myth: People who talk about suicide, do not mean to do it.
Fact: People who talk about suicide may be reaching out for help.
Myth: Asking about suicide causes suicidal behaviour.
Fact: Talking about suicide in a caring way can prevent suicide.
Talking about suicide is important but it needs to be done in a safe way. Hearing about a death by suicide can lead to vulnerable people thinking that it is a valid option for solving their problems. For this reason, it is recommended that information about suicide and, especially, the method of suicide is not provided in the media. It is safer not to share details of the method to avoid copycat behaviour or contagion. Check out our Pasifika media guidelines for reporting suicide in New Zealand.
Talking about suicide in a caring way can actually prevent suicide. Do not be afraid to ask about suicide with people in your community. Let them talk and start a B.R.A.V.E. conversation.
Be calm and breathe! Naturally, if someone was to tell you they were having thoughts of taking their own life your initial reaction would be to panic. Take a breath and remain calm.
Reassure them. They may not want to open-up straight away, but let them know you are there for them. Here are some examples of things you can say to provide reassurance:
I’m so glad you came to me. I’m here for you. I will be there for you through this. I can handle whatever you have to say. I’m really pleased you are trusting me to talk to you. I’ve been thinking about you a lot and I’ve been wondering what’s going on for you. Thanks for trusting me with this.
Allow them to talk.
Listening means tuning in and really listening to why they want to take their own life. This is not a chance for you to tell them how you feel about them admitting to wanting to take their own life. This is their opportunity to tell you how they feel.
Listening means not interrupting, and listening means trying to limit what you say so that they have enough space to say what needs to be said. For example, as a rough guide, good listeners listen approximately 70 per cent of the time and only talk 30 per cent of the time. Good listeners are active listeners. They pay attention and are actively engaged, showing signs that they are really listening.
As hard as it might be to listen to, let them talk about why they want to die.
Validate their feelings. Listen – allow them to express their feelings and accept them.
Validating includes simply saying “yes” or “ok” and nodding your head as they talk.
Say, “I hear you. I understand what you are saying. I get it. That sounds tough. It must have been scary to feel like that. I’m so glad you are telling me this. Thank you for trusting me with this. I’m listening. It’s really brave of you to be open about this, thank you. I was really worried about you, thanks so much for being honest. It means a lot to me that you are trusting me with this. I’m here for you. I’m hearing you. I’m feeling you on that.”
No matter how small their problem seems to you, it’s a big deal to them.
- judge – don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong or feelings are good are bad
- lecture about the value of life
- talk about what other people will think
- dare the person to do it
- act shocked; this will put distance between you
- make any deals or be sworn to secrecy; seek advice, support and help
- encourage them to find reasons to live and give them hope
Establish risk and ensure safety. Even though it might not be something you normally do in your community, in the case of suicide asking and establishing the level of risk is important.
It can be considered rude in Pasifika cultures to ask direct questions and sometimes sharing feelings is actively discouraged.
By creating a safe space to talk about suicide and having your intentions of love and care known to the person at risk then establishing any further risk is vital.
Do ask direct questions about whether or not someone is intending to harm themselves. A safe way of asking is to listen carefully for any intentions to suicide and then ask them to confirm those intentions.
Here are some questions you can ask.
- Do you ever feel like giving up?
- Does it get so bad, that you wish you were dead?
- Do you ever think about dying?
- Have you thought about suicide or taking your own life?
- Have you ever thought about how you would do it? (Check to see if they have access to the means or a plan.)
Ask them: “What can I do to help?”
Reassure them that they are not alone – you are here for them.
Take them seriously and say that you know how serious this is.
Explain that you are going to get all the help they need to get them through this. Call on the appropriate supports and resources.
Get help. It might feel threatening to refuse to keep a secret and to insist on involving others. You can explain that you need help to help them because you want the best for them, and together you can work out who can help best. This will avoid surprises or distrust, but it also makes it clear that you will not keep a secret.
Identify trusted people in your networks who could help. Think broadly about family, extended family members, grandparents, parents, friends, friend’s parents, professionals such as guidance counsellors, social workers, GPs, youth workers, teachers and their parent’s friends; anyone who is a natural helper or is connected to professional services and may have useful insights.
In an emergency dial 111, and find out more about what you can do in an emergency.