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This article discusses suicide. If you feel like you’re going to act on suicidal thoughts, call 000 if you live in Australia. A number of crisis support services are also there for you – have a look at our urgent help page.

This article was written by Dr Amy Burton, Clinical Psychologist.

It can be difficult to work out what to do if you have started to experience suicidal thoughts or urges. These thoughts and feelings can be overwhelming and scary. Part of you might want to ask someone for help, but something may be holding you back. You may feel like you don’t know what to say, or how to start the conversation, or you may worry about how the other person will react. In this article, we provide a step-by-step guide to opening up a conversation with someone you trust about your experience of suicidal thoughts.

If you are in a crisis or need urgent support please call 000 or a crisis line for immediate support. It can also help to call a support line before you approach someone you know, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed right now. Experienced counsellors at Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), eheadspace or Suicide Callback Service (1300 659 467) can offer you advice, tips and suggestions.

Step 1: Who to talk to

Decide who you want to talk to about this. There may be a few people you would like to tell. To begin with, you only need to pick one person – someone you trust and feel safe talking with. This person might be a friend, a family member, a trusted adult in your life such as a teacher or coach, or a health professional (GP, therapist, counsellor, etc.). If you’re not sure who to talk to about what’s worrying you, or if you feel overwhelmed, start by calling a support line such as Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or eheadspace and talk it through first with an experienced counsellor.

Step 1 Who to talk to

Step 2: How to talk to them

Once you’ve decided who to talk to, the next step is to work out how you want to have the conversation. You might feel most comfortable having it via text or an online chat, or a phone call might seem easier, or you might prefer to talk face-to-face. Choose the way that feels right for you, right now – and do it today or tomorrow. (It’s important not to delay starting this conversation.)

Step 2 How to talk

Step 3: What to say

This can be the hardest step. It can feel scary or awkward to bring up the topic of suicide with someone, but it’s helpful to get straight to the point. Use one of these conversation starters, or try saying something similar in your own words:

  • I’ve been thinking about suicide a lot lately.
  • Recently, I’ve been feeling like I’d rather not be here anymore.
  • I keep having thoughts about wanting to die.
  • I’ve been having a lot of dark thoughts.
  • Lately, I’ve been thinking about death and wishing that I were dead.
  • I’m not okay, and I’m scared that I might do something to end my life.

If you’d like to practise with a stranger first, it can really help to try a phone counselling service or webchat (e.g. Lifeline 13 11 14, Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 or eheadspace).

Step 3 What to say

Step 4: Start the conversation

Once you’ve decided which opening statement feels right for you, it’s time to ‘just do it’. Reach out to the person you chose in Step 1, using the method you chose in Step 2, and start a conversation by saying, ‘Hello, I need to talk to you about something.’ Then it’s time for your statement you decided on in Step 3: take a deep breath and hit send, or say the words you’ve planned. You’ll most likely find that it wasn’t as hard or as awkward as you thought it would be. You’ll probably also feel some relief from having shared your experience with someone else, so that you don’t have to carry this secret on your own anymore.

Step 4 start the conversation

Step 5: Keep the conversation going

You did it! Now keep talking with this person and checking in with them. Let them know how you are doing and reach out to them if you get stuck in a cycle of dark thoughts. If there were other people you had in mind in Step 1, repeat these steps with each of them to let more people into your experience. The more people you have around you to support you, the more likely you are to obtain the help you need to get better. Also, if you didn’t get the response you were hoping for from the person or people you reached out to, consider talking to a professional, who will be better equipped to help you through this challenging time.

Step 5 keep the conversation going

What can I do now?