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Talking to young people about suicide
Suicide is a traumatic event with devastating consequences. Sarah Kessling offers helpful things to say to young people who have been bereaved by suicide or are experiencing suicidal ideation
Suicide is a complex behaviour caused by a range of factors and is rarely the result of a single event or problem.
Talking about suicide with young people is unique and individual. Whether they are experiencing suicidal ideation themselves or they have been bereaved by suicide, it can often feel daunting to strike up a conversation. Many people fear they will escalate the level of distress for a young person.
However, talking about suicide in a calm and straightforward manner along with providing information and support are all ways of helping young people to manage their feelings or make sense of what has happened.
Listening is crucial when talking to young people about suicide. It helps young people feel safe, supported and unjudged.
It’s important to be thoughtful and sensitive when you talk to young people about suicide as it is immersed in stigma and taboo.
If you suspect a young person is suicidal ask them clear and direct questions.
- Are you thinking about suicide?
- Are you thinking about killing yourself?
It is a myth that talking about suicide will put the idea into someone’s head. By asking clearly and directly you are washing away stigma and fear. You are also ensuring you are not underreacting or overacting to a situation.
Helpful things to say
- I have been feeling concerned about you lately.
- You’re not alone in this.
- You are important.
- How are you? (Try asking this question twice, as people often change their answer when asked a second time)
- So, you are telling me… (this allows for a period of reflection)
- You are doing the right thing by asking for support.
- I’m sorry to hear that.
- It can’t have been easy to say this, you’re very brave.
- How can I best support you right now?
- When did you begin to feel like this?
- I want to help this is what we can provide.
For those young people who are bereaved by suicide, it is natural to want to protect them from what has happened. However, because of the likelihood of overheard conversations, media coverage, gossip and visits from the police, it is hard to keep this a secret.
Young people would rather they hear the truth from people who love them than from someone at school, at college or on social media.
The National Suicide Prevention Alliance offer many helpful resources when talking to young people.
Help is at Hand is a free handbook specifically designed to support people through suicide bereavement.
Harmless provides a range of services about self-harm and suicide prevention including support, information, training and consultancy to people who self-harm, their friends and families and professionals and those at risk of suicide.
You can contact them at Info@harmless.org.uk
The Tomorrow Project
The Tomorrow Project was set up in response to a number of suicides within a local community in 2012.
A confidential, community-based suicide prevention, intervention and postvention service, The Tomorrow Project offers help and support in times of struggle.
Last Updated:28 Mar 2022