This informal CPD article, ‘Saving lives at work: The value of Suicide First Aid training’, was provided by Champs Consulting, who are a Suicide First Aid training provider who can help you build a team of first responders to support positive mental health within your organisation.
Every year, on 10th September, organisations around the world raise awareness for World Suicide Prevention Day. This awareness day is dedicated to encouraging long-term action for suicide prevention.
As with any awareness day, it only works if the action extends beyond the day itself. Caring for your employees’ wellbeing and advocating for their mental health needs should be ingrained in your ongoing business activities, not a one-day activity. After all, mental health problems don’t stop the second someone enters “work mode”.
Understanding how to support people experiencing mental health crises can help prevent suicide. A simple conversation with someone in a mental health crisis can be life-saving. Yet, without the right guidance or approach, it can also be daunting and potentially harmful. Keep reading to learn how you can have open, supportive conversations about suicide and do your part to protect the wellbeing of your team.
Talking about suicide: what you say matters
The words you choose and how you use them can make a world of difference when you’re talking about suicide. Conversations are powerful. Understanding the intricacies of how to have supportive conversations with someone you are worried about could be the difference between life and loss.
8 tips for having open, supportive conversations about suicide
Having conversations about suicide can be challenging. But, those conversations can be essential in providing support and potentially saving lives. Approach these conversations with compassion, empathy, and a willingness to connect those in crisis with the support they need.
As Suicide First Aid training providers, here are our tips for having open, supportive conversations about suicide.
Don’t say committed
The word “committed” carries negative connotations. It implies that suicide is a crime and carries an element of blame. Up until 1961, it was illegal to die by suicide. While the Suicide Act 1961 decriminalised death by suicide in the UK, it is sadly still illegal in many countries around the world.
When speaking about the sensitive topic of suicide, use neutral language such as “died by suicide” to remove any stigma or negative associations.
Avoid sharing harmful content
Refrain from sharing any content that talks about suicide or self-harm in an unsafe manner. This type of content can be extremely harmful to vulnerable people. If you see harmful or unsafe content related to suicide or self-harm, please report it. You can report harmful content to the content host (e.g. the social media platform it was published on) or via the Report Harmful Content website1.
Ask direct questions
If you are worried someone may be experiencing mental health crises, ask them directly about their thoughts and feelings related to suicide. Being direct in your approach can open up a conversation and let them express themselves.
Asking direct questions can make it easier to get someone the support they need. When you ask someone “Are you having suicidal thoughts?”, you offer them the chance to answer openly and honestly.
Validate their feelings
Show empathy when speaking to someone about suicide. Don’t diminish or dismiss their feelings or experiences. Phrases such as “don’t do anything stupid” can do more harm than good by invalidating the seriousness of their feelings. Let them know that you hear what they have to say and that you take their feelings seriously.
Don’t be judgemental
Everyone’s struggles are unique. Unless someone tells us, we never fully know what they are going through — and, even then, we can’t possibly put ourselves in their shoes. Avoid passing judgement over someone’s experiences or feelings. Instead, listen without judgement and help them get support.
Signpost towards support
If someone opens up to you about suicidal thoughts or tendencies, signpost them towards receiving support. Use the conversation as an opportunity to signpost them towards local mental health resources, crisis hotlines, or professionals who can support them.
When having conversations about suicide, actively listen to what the other person is saying without interrupting them or offering solutions straight away. Sometimes, people just need someone to listen to them.
Give them your full attention. Maintain eye contact, focus on what they are saying, and please put your phone away. It might take some time before they feel ready to open up so be patient and give them time to speak.
Use hopeful language that reinforces that things can get better. Where possible, share sources of support, hope, and recovery.
Sharing stories of hope and using hopeful language can help them feel less alone in their struggles. It shows them that it is possible to overcome what they are currently experiencing and could encourage them to seek support.