Working on our helpline: Steps to help someone with suicidal thoughts


On Suicide Prevention Awareness Day, our Helpline & Information Officer, Stuart Macgee looks at steps you can take to understand someone’s distress if you have concerns about their mental or emotional wellbeing.

Today 10 September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Day. It was set up in order to provide a worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides.

In the UK, men are three times as likely to die by suicide than women.

Meanwhile, people living with epilepsy are twice as likely to die by suicide compared to those without epilepsy.

When you are told that you have epilepsy it’s completely normal to feel anxious, sad or angry.

Coming to terms with a diagnosis of a long-term condition is not easy. Often people struggle with this. Over time, however, many find it becomes easier to carry on with their lives as normally as possible.

For some people, they find it difficult to imagine that things will get better, struggle to come to terms with epilepsy and think about suicide.

If you have concerns about someone’s mental or emotional wellbeing, you may find the following four simple steps useful.

This will help you understand the person’s distress and keep the person safe until professional help is available.


Assess risk of suicide or self-harm

Talk to the person and find out how they are feeling and what is making them feel this way.

Identify if that person is at risk by asking them directly if they have suicidal thoughts. If yes, allow the person to talk about why they want to end their life. Then try to explore their reasons to live.

Explore and assess if there is an immediate risk of suicide and find out if they have attempted suicide in the past.

Try to determine if they have any support. Anyone who has previously tried to end their life by suicide and has no support is more at risk.

Also, try to disable the person’s suicide plan by, for example, taking away any pills the person intends to take.

Agree a plan of action that keeps the person safe until they get professional help. This could be agreeing with them that they will phone their doctor, or, if appropriate, offer to do this for them.



Listen non-judgementally

Once you have established that there is no risk of suicide, take some time to listen to the person.

Don’t be critical, don’t express your own frustration, don’t offer advice such as “pull yourself together”.

Avoid any confrontation unless this is necessary to prevent someone from harming themselves or others.


Give reassurance and information

Mental health problems affect many people. Stress that people can and do recover from them.

Reassure the person that this is not a sign of weakness. Help them to feel more positive by telling them that effective help is available from their doctor and/or a counsellor.


Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help

Ask them to speak to their doctor if they haven’t already done so. If appropriate, offer to phone or to go with them.

Alternatively, give them the phone number of a helpline such as Samaritans, Breathing Space or call our freephone helpline on 0808 800 2200.

If they don’t seek help, don’t be afraid of taking charge of the situation by calling their doctor yourself.

For more information, please read our emotional wellbeing factsheet by clicking here. For a hard copy, please email