If you think someone's considering suicide, this is the question you need to ask

‘Are you thinking of suicide?’

It’s a question that most might dismiss, with the phrase ‘it doesn’t bare thinking about’.

But in dismissing the possibility that someone might be suicidal or thinking about suicide, we’re doing nothing to help those struggling with their mental health.

Asking someone whether they’re thinking about suicide might feel extreme, but Simon Blake, the Chief Executive of MHFA (Mental Health First Aid) England, advocates for asking the question.

‘The stigma and silence about suicide causes enormous harm and kills. We are not brilliant at talking about death, even more so suicide,’ he says, as new research from MHFA England shows a third of people believe incorrectly that asking about suicide can put the idea in someone’s head.

On the contrary, evidence shows that asking a direct question to someone who has a plan to end their life can save their life.

‘Asking someone if they are thinking of taking their life sensitively and with care and empathy is proven to prevent suicide,’ Simon says.

Research from MHFA shows nearly 40% of people don’t know if asking the question directly is the right thing to do.

‘It may feel uncomfortable, but it is lifesaving. With the right training we can all develop the skills and confidence to support someone in crisis,’ he adds.

‘People may think about suicide for different reasons.

‘However, we know that suicide is preventable through education and intervention. We all have an important life-saving part to play.’

Signs someone might be feeling suicidal could include changes in behaviour, or people putting their affairs in order – though sometimes, there isn’t a ‘clear sign’ someone is thinking of suicide.

‘If our gut tells us there is something wrong and we think they may be at risk of suicide – the best thing we can do is ask them directly and sensitively,’ Simon says.

Never agree to keep someone’s suicidal thoughts confidential.

If someone is at immediate risk of attempting suicide, dial 999. If someone is having thoughts of suicide encourage them to call Samaritans on 116 123.

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