Talking about suicide

Adolescent Self Harm and Suicide

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Talking about suicide can be uncomfortable and challenging. It can also be frightening especially when there is different advice about the safety and risks of having conversations with people about suicide. Often people don’t talk about suicide because they are worried about saying the wrong thing and making the situation worse. Avoiding conversations about suicide can lead to people feeling more isolated. It is important to talk to the person, ask directly about suicide and listen without judgement.

Talking about suicide is important

  • Suicide is an important issue that we must engage with as a community.
  • There is often confusion about what is meant by ‘discussing’ or ‘talking about’
  • suicide, and confusion about the prevalence and risk of suicide.
  • We need to ensure we are not ’too’ afraid to talk about suicide, while respecting and understanding the risks.

Things to think about before the conversation

  • What is the focus of the information to be provided? For example, is the discussion about the details of a suicide, about how to cope with a death or about suicidal risk?
  • The status of the individual receiving the information is important. For example, does the individual have little interest in suicide, or is the individual bereaved by a suicide death?
  • What is the format in which the people will receive the information? For example, will it be a face-to-face discussion, a presentation to the media or a group discussion? The bigger the group gets, the more difficult it is to determine and manage reactions.
  • The time and place the audience will receive the information.

What we know

  • Talking to someone, one-on-one, directly about suicide will not increase their suicide risk.
  • Media reporting of suicide deaths has been associated with increased risk for those who are vulnerable to suicide.

What we do not know

  • Whether group presentations about suicide will increase or decrease the risk of suicide.
  • Whether more general media reporting about suicide (or awareness campaigns) will increase or decrease the risk of suicide.

Stigma and suicide

  • There is a stigma associated with suicide. It is important to reduce people’s ‘ignorance’ about suicide without reducing the fear of death or suicide because fear is a protective factor.
  • We need to address the myths and misconceptions without inadvertently presenting suicide as something to be less feared.

Having one-on-one conversations

  • Talking about suicide does not increase the probability of suicide.
  • If you are worried about someone or know someone who has been affected or bereaved by suicide it is better to reach out than avoid the person.
  • Avoiding the discussion can lead to people feeling more isolated.
  • Talk to the person preferably face-to-face.
  • Listen without judgement.
  • Don’t try to ‘fix’ the situation, young people want understanding rather than solutions.
  • If you are worried someone is thinking about suicide then ask directly and be prepared for the answer.
  • Talk to the person about who else to involve so they can be supported and encouraged to seek help.
  • Take care of yourself. These conversations can be difficult and you may need support.

Language and suicide

  • Use language in conversations that you would like to receive.
  • Minimise language that involves details of suicide methods.
  • Avoid using labelling language for example ‘attention seeking’.
  • Avoid value laden language for example ‘sin’ or ‘crazy’.

Social media

  • Young people no longer differentiate between their online and offline selves.
  • Practitioners can see the conversations that young people are having online.
  • Young people are more susceptible to contagion or copy cat suicide.
  • There are many opportunities for connection and engagement via social media, but little is known about the risks.

How to ask about plans

  • If a young person confirms they are thinking about suicide, it is important to try and find out if they are in immediate danger.
  • People are usually at higher risk of suicide when they have a plan in mind and have the ability to carry it out.
  • You may need to ask direct questions to determine how detailed their plans are.
  • The more detailed the plan is, the higher the risk of suicide.
  • Never promise confidentiality about suicidal thoughts.

Tips for workers

  • If you are concerned then ask the young person about their suicidal thoughts.
  • If the person is not having suicidal thoughts it can lead to a conversation about other support they may need.
  • If they do disclose suicidal thoughts, don’t panic and don’t dismiss the thoughts.
  • Listen without judgement and don’t jump straight to solutions.
  • Follow policies and arrange appropriate referral.
  • Bookmark good resources you can quickly access.

Services and supports

Lifeline: 24 hour national telephone crisis counselling service and online counselling
Telephone: 13 11 14;

Kids Helpline: Free confidential 24 hour telephone and online counselling for young people aged
Telephone: 1800 55 1800;

Suicide Call Back Service: 24-hour national telephone counselling service to people 18 years and over and online services.
Telephone: 1300 659 467;

mindhealthconnect: Website aggregates mental health resources and content from the leading health organisations.

beyondblue: National depression initiative. 24 hour telephone support and online chat service and links to local services.
Telephone: 1300 22 4636;

eheadspace: Online counselling for young people 12–25 years.

Conversations matter
Resource for discussing suicide. This resource will assist communities when:
–  they want to know how to talk about suicide more generally
–  they are worried about someone and want to know what to say and do
–  there has been a death and they want to know how best to handle individual and community level conversations.

To learn more, see the presentation by keynote speaker Jaelea Skehan from the Hunter Mental health ‘Talking about suicide’.