Renfrewshire Council

Suicide Prevention Week - how to start a conversation

Easy ways to start a conversation with someone at risk of suicide

Asking how you can help is the best way to support someone at risk of suicide.

Talking with friends or loved ones about their problems is never easy.

Often, they don't want to talk. Sometimes they do, and we just don't realise it. When they do start talking, it can be difficult to know how to respond. If a problem is really bad, what can we say?

Sometimes people do put out signals tentatively. The signs are often there if we know what to look for. Here are some of the ways that people signal that they may need help:

  • Putting themselves down in a serious or jokey way, like "oh, no one loves me" or "I'm a waste of space"
  • Losing interest in their appearance
  • Using drugs and/or alcohol as a comfort
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Being uncharacteristically clumsy or accident prone
  • Making leading statements, like "you wouldn't believe what I've been through" or "someone up there's got it in for me"

The best way to help is to ask questions. That way you leave the other person in control.  By asking questions, the person you are talking with finds their own answers.

When did you realise?

How did that feel?

Where did that happen?

What else happened?

By being understanding, tactful and gentle, there's a better chance that someone will want to talk. Some useful phrases are "is there anything I can do?", "why don't we have a coffee and talk about it?", "I've been a bit worried about you", "are you ok?" and "I'd like to help".

The only question to try to avoid is "why?" - it can sound challenging and put the other person on the defensive.

All you need to do is start the conversation, so that these questions are raised. Nobody expects you to know the answers. Not knowing the answers doesn't mean you're not helping.


If you or someone you know is suicidal, you find support under 'related articles' and 'related links'.

Published: Wednesday 12 September 2018.