Suicide is a taboo subject, however, talking about it in an appropriate and sensitive manner is hugely important.

Much alike the wider conversation around mental health, talking about suicide may help someone who feels isolated in their thoughts, feelings or experiences. Individuals suffering with suicidal thoughts, suicide attempt survivors and those bereaved by suicide could all benefit from the support talking can bring with it.

However, it can be a triggering topic, which is why it isn’t as simple as opening up the conversation – we must also get the dialogue right. Within our Model of Care, we focus a lot on the importance of the words we use and our body language.

Don’t be afraid to be direct

When it comes to talking about suicide, your instinct may be to tiptoe around the subject. However, it is better to ask simple, direct, but, still sensitively-worded questions. Through this method, the individual will be provided with the opportunity to share how they are feeling. In fact, according to Mind UK, research has actually shown that speaking openly about suicide can decrease the likelihood of the person acting on their feelings.

Practice active listening

Active listening is almost like an enhanced way of doing what we all do every day, it’s a way of using techniques to give someone the space and time needed to open up.  Once someone starts to be honest with you about their feelings, it’s important to listen carefully and refrain from making the conversation about yourself. The Samaritans utilise the acronym ‘SHUSH’ to remember key tips for active listening (see below, or read more here).

Be mindful and kind

Whilst it is important to be direct, as we have already mentioned, it is still vital that you are mindful of what you say. For example, if you are talking to a survivor of suicide or someone who has been bereaved through suicide, be mindful of asking about potentially triggering details. Instead, focus on how the individual is feeling, actively listen and provide emotional support for them. 

Use the correct terminology

Some of the terminology we use today originates in the days when suicide was viewed as a criminal act. These days, our understanding of mental health conditions has changed, and thus, it’s important that we steer away from using both ancient and harmful words/phrases. Take a look at the image below for ideas of the what you shouldn’t say, and what you could say instead.

These tips have been based on professional advice, and will not only help you in speaking to someone who has suicidal thoughts, but help to also break the stigma still attached to it. By opening up the lines of communication and being sensitive about the subject, we can give more people the space needed to be honest in times of need.

For more suggestions and resources, whether you’re worried about someone else or yourself, click here.