If you’re concerned that someone you manage may be suicidal, start by having a conversation. You might feel unsure about what to say, but the main thing is to be calm and non-judgmental. You don’t need to solve their problems or understand ‘why’ – just listen and encourage them to seek support or check in with their health professional.
Don’t be afraid to ask directly if they are thinking of suicide. Asking the question does not increase the person’s risk, but their response will help you understand how they are feeling.
If someone in your team tells you they’ve thought about or attempted suicide, it’s important not to let any preconceived ideas you may have get in the way of listening openly. You may be shocked or find it hard to understand, but your role is to provide reassurance and offer support.
Be aware of the person’s journey to get to this point and how difficult the conversation is likely to be for them. Talking about suicide takes courage – acknowledge this and thank the person for being honest with you.
What to do if you notice any warning signs
- Avoid telling the person that they are being stupid; how this would hurt their family and friends, trivializing their behaviour as attention-seeking; or, telling them what they’ve got to live for.
- You could start a conversation with something like “You haven’t seemed yourself lately and I’m worried about you”, or “I’ve noticed that you’ve been doing (X/Y/Z), and I’m wondering how you’re going.”
- Ask if they are thinking of suicide. Asking the question does not increase the person’s risk but will help you understand how they’re feeling.
- Acknowledge your own reactions to the situation. You may feel anxious or try to dismiss what you’re noticing. You might get angry or annoyed that the person is acting withdrawn or irritable.
- If you feel out of your depth, consider asking the person if you can contact someone else who could help.
If the situation is urgent and you’re concerned that the person is in immediate danger, don’t leave them alone. Call the person’s doctor, mental health crisis service or dial 911 and say that the person’s life is at risk.