How to encourage someone you suspect has suicidal thoughts to reach out for help

Television presenter Caroline Flack arrives for the BRIT music awards at the O2 Arena in Greenwich, London, February 25, 2015. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett (BRITAIN - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
Caroline Flack died by suicide on 15 February. She is pictured at the BRIT awards in London in February 2015. (Reuters)

TV presenter Caroline Flack was found dead in her north London home on 15 February.

A lawyer for the 40-year-old’s family said she took her own life.

She was due to stand trial, charged with assaulting her boyfriend last year.

In response to the tragic news, the Samaritans tweeted: “If you’re findings things tough tonight and feel like you’ve got nowhere to turn, we’re here to listen.”

Suicide is a leading cause of death, with one person taking their life every 40 seconds worldwide.

In the UK and Republic of Ireland alone, 6,859 people died by suicide in 2018.

Men are three times more likely to end their life than women, with the 45-to-49 age group most vulnerable.

Read more: Why talking is so important for mental health

“Our research shows suicide is complex and is rarely caused by one thing,” a Samaritans spokesperson told Yahoo UK.

“We know many people who express suicidal thoughts and feelings do not want to die; they simply do not want to carry on with the life they have and are unable to see any other way to cope with what they are experiencing.

“Talking can really help a person to see a way through this and we would encourage anyone who is feeling low to reach out for help.

“We know many people find it hard to speak openly or ask for help when they are struggling, but talking can be life-saving – whether it’s with a family member, friend or a confidential helpline like Samaritans.”

How to spot when a loved one may have suicidal thoughts

Suicidal feelings can affect people of any age, sex or background.

Those who feel this way may have been battling emotions of worthlessness or helplessness for some time.

For unclear reasons, men are more at risk. This may be due to society’s “expectation” to “get on with things”.

People from LGBTQ communities are also more at risk, possibly due to bullying or discrimination.

READ MORE: The pursuit of happiness may cause depression

Nevertheless, there are no defined warning signs when it comes to suicidal thoughts.

Many of those who experience these emotions are depressed, which can lead to substance abuse, fatigue, and disturbed eating or sleeping patterns.

Some also lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, such as sex.

They may struggle to concentrate, remember things or make decisions. Some may also appear irritable, tearful or panicky.

People may just act “out of sorts”, whether that’s by being unusually quiet, confrontational or reckless.

Look out for signs someone may be preparing to end their life, like making a will.

Overall, Rethink Mental Illness urges people to trust their instincts if something seems alarming.

Worried businessman touching forehead while sharing his problems with colleague by cup of coffee
Talking can help people process what they are feeling. (Getty Images)

How to encourage someone to talk

If a loved one seems to be struggling, we often want to help, but are unsure where to start.

The Samaritans stress that you do not have to be an expert – just listening can often help people “work through what’s on their mind”.

The late Reverend Chad Varah, founder of The Samaritans, said: “There are in this world, in every country, people who seem to be ‘ordinary’, but who, when meeting a suicidal person, turn out to be extraordinary.

“They can usually save lives. How? They give the sad person their total attention.

“They completely forget themselves. They listen and listen and listen, without interrupting. They have no message. They do not preach”.

When it comes to starting the conversation, find somewhere quiet, where you will not be interrupted.

Set aside plenty of time and ensure you are both physically comfortable.

To show you care, put away your phone and maintain eye contact.

Resolve not to talk about yourself – make it all about the other person.

The first attempt to start this conversation may be unsuccessful.

Remember, it can take a lot for a person to open up and they should not feel rushed.

If you are trying to encourage someone to discuss their feelings, try keeping a listening diary, noting the times you listened well and when you were distracted.

The Samaritans encourage “non-judgmental listening”, where a person is “safe” to reflect on the emotions they are experiencing.

If they pause, do not rush to fill the silence. It may take time to formulate how they feel or they may struggle to find the words to sum it up.

Aim for open-ended questions that have more than just a “yes” or “no” response.

Try: “How are you feeling today?” You could then follow their answer with: “Tell me more.”

Show empathy by saying: “I can’t imagine how painful this is for you, but I would like to try to understand.”

Repeating their response shows they have your undivided attention.

It also reassures them you have not misunderstood or made your own interpretations.

If you feel you have said the wrong thing, do not panic.

You could follow with: “I realise that was insensitive, I’m sorry. I'm still here for you.”

Rethink Mental Illnesses stresses that “talking to someone about their suicidal thoughts does not make them more likely to end their life”.

“Many people feel relieved and less isolated when they are asked these sorts of questions,” Stephen Buckley, from Mind, told Yahoo UK.

Reassure the person the feeling will not last forever, while encouraging them to get through the day rather than looking to the future.

Importantly, do not tell them to “cheer up” or “pull themselves together”.

Do not say they should not be feeling the way they do or that they should be grateful for their good life.

This can make them feel rejected, ignored, patronised or guilty.

Psychotherapy session, woman talking to his psychologist in the studio
Counsellors can help those needing extra support. (Getty Images)

Where to send people who need extra support

If a loved one still feels low after talking it through, they may need extra support from a counsellor.

Try asking: “Have you talked to anyone else about this?”, “Would you like to get some help?” and “Would you like me to come with you?”

If they are reluctant, ask “Do you have someone you trust you can go to?” and let them know they can talk to you at any time.

“If somebody has ongoing suicidal thoughts, you could also offer practical support like helping them access mental health services”, said Buckley.

The Samaritans are available 24/7 on 116 123, or email

The non-emergency NHS number 111 also offers health advice.

For those outside the UK, Befrienders Worldwide lists helplines in different countries.

If someone is speaking of attempting suicide or has hurt themselves, call 999.

Caring for someone in distress can trigger low mood in itself. Ensure you reach out for support if it all gets too much.

“If someone tries to end their life, this is not your fault,” Rethink Mental Illness adds.