How you can help someone with suicidal feelings

Written by: Dr Stefania Bonaccorso
Edited by: Bronwen Griffiths

All of us are capable of suffering from mental health problems, and sometimes this can lead to suicidal thoughts and feelings. These will vary in terms of their intensity and how long they last for, but if you suspect someone you know is suffering, there are things you can do and should do to help. Dr Stefania Bonaccorso, an expert psychiatrist, addresses this difficult topic and gives her advice on what to do if you are ever in a situation where someone is talking about ending their life.

Talking about suicide can be a request for help. Don’t assume that because someone has talked about suicide they won’t try to take their own life. You should always take this seriously.

If you talk to someone about their feelings and it seems as though they want to end their life soon, try to keep them safe in the short term. It is unlikely that you will be able to make their feelings go away, but you can help by making them see that there are some things worth living for.

Read more: how to give support

What are the signs of suicidal thinking?

  • A change in someone’s character and behaviour might be a sign that they are having suicidal thoughts. You may be the best judge of when someone you know is acting differently by becoming restless, ill-tempered or confrontational, having mood swings, acting recklessly, sleeping too much or too little, preferring not to be around other people, having more problems with work or studies or saying undesirable things about themselves.

How do I know they’re being serious?

  • Threatening to hurt or kill themselves, talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, or actively looking for ways to end their life, such as stockpiling medication.
  • It is rare for someone to be certain that they want to end their own life. Most people will be undecided about suicide, seeing some ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of living and dying.
  • A lot of people try to seek help before attempting suicide by telling other people about their feelings or by self-harming to show people that they are in emotional pain.

What can I say to them?

  • People might consider suicide for different reasons.
  • If you are concerned that someone may be considering about suicide, talk to them. Ask them about how they are feeling and offer to help.
  • Talking to someone about their suicidal thoughts does not make them more likely to end their life.
  • You can help someone who is feeling suicidal by listening to them without judging them and trying to help them think about other options.
  • Let the person know that you care about them and that they are not alone.
  • Encouragement, self- esteem and care can help a person recover at this difficult time.

Should I ask for help from anyone else?

  • You may need to get crisis help from mental health services or the emergency services.
  • Helping someone with suicidal thoughts is likely to have a big impact on you. Find out what support is available to you.
  • For urgent support in a crisis, find out if the person has access to a crisis service or if the person is registered with a local crisis team. If the person you are worried about is in danger of hurting themselves or others, please call 999 or go to your nearest Accident and Emergency department .
  • If someone does try to end their life, this is not your fault.

Find a crisis centre here


If the content of this article has affected you and you feel like you need to speak to someone, talk to someone you know, find a crisis centre or speak to a psychiatrist.

By Dr Stefania Bonaccorso

Dr Stefania Bonaccorso is a leading psychiatrist based at The London Medical Specialist Clinic, who specialises in psychosis, depression, self-harm, psychotherapy, suicidal thoughts, bipolar illness and personality disorders.

Dr Bonaccorso attained her medical education and psychiatry degree at the University Of Rome, Italy. She has acquired immense clinical and research experience in both Europe and the USA.

Since 2008 she has been a clinical lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry Maudsley Hospital at King’s College, where her research interests focus on metabolic abnormalities, childhood abuse and sexual function in patients with a first psychotic episode. She also has experience from working at the National Psychosis Unit where she took care of severely mentally ill patients, who are affected by psychosis.

Dr Bonaccorso has vast experience with patients with personality disorders having worked as a consultant psychiatrist for an inpatients unit of females at high risk of self-harm and suicide. She also deals with patients affected by anxiety and depression. Dr Bonaccorso has collaborated with the Italian health services to repatriate numerous citizens with mental health-related difficulties.

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