Responding to young people who are suicidal

It’s distressing to realise that someone is thinking about taking their own life.  It’s often really difficult to know what to say or do and how to make sure the person is safe.  Most people who feel suicidal recover from these intense feelings.  You can make a big difference in helping them stay safe during this time and find positive reasons for living.

It is important not to shy away from talking about suicidality.  It is often a very confronting topic and many carers feel uncomfortable or not qualified to speak about this with young people in their care.  However, there are practical things you can do to help.  

Talking about suicide with young people

First and foremost, your relationship with the young person is most important to them feeling comfortable in talking with you about suicidal thoughts that they may be having. 

Talk directly about it. 

Carer: You don’t seem like yourself, what’s been going on?

Young Person: Nothing, I’m fine!

Carer: You seem really flat lately, has it ever got to the point when you felt like you wanted to die?

Young Person: Sometimes

There’s no point beating around the bush and asking them will not give them an idea that they haven’t already thought about.  In fact, many young people will be relieved to share these thoughts.  Think about it as giving them permission to speak about their distress and show you’re not afraid to talk about it.

Allow enough time and be patient. 

The more you allow the young person to express how they are feeling in their own time, the more you will get an accurate understanding of their risk and things that may have led them to feeling this way.

Have the conversation in a place where they feel comfortable and private

  • Hear what they have to say
  • Provide reassurance

What not to do

  • It is important not to judge or dismiss their feelings, as it will likely discourage them from opening up further.
  • Never tell a young person you will keep their suicidal intentions a secret. 
  • If they are at risk, to keep them safe you need to tell all relevant people.


Further Resources