It’s hard to know what to say when someone you care about is struggling with mental health.

It can be distressing if someone you care about voices their desire to harm or kill themselves. You may be unsure what you can do to help or even whether you should take their statements seriously. You may even be afraid of making the situation worse. However, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to be a mental health professional to check in or support someone you’re worried about.

If someone you know is struggling, reaching out and connecting with them could save their life. While there are no magic words or phrases that will make things better, there are ways to approach the situation that are better than others and some things that you should never say to a person who is feeling suicidal.

mental health

What you can say

You can start by asking questions. You can ask the following questions in a sensitive yet direct way:

Are you thinking about hurting yourself?

Are you thinking about suicide?

Have you tried to harm yourself before?

Have you thought about when or how you’d do it?

Do you have access to weapons or other things that you could use to hurt yourself?

Asking these questions won’t push someone to hurt themselves. Instead, it will offer an opportunity to open up and talk and reduce the risk of them acting on any suicidal feelings.

It’s important to validate that person’s emotions while at the same time expressing your concern. Showing empathy and being genuinely willing to listen can go a long way in preventing someone from harming themselves.

It’s ok to talk to them about a safety plan and help them establish one. Ask the person who they’d contact if their suicidal thoughts and depressive symptoms become too much. Encourage them to keep the number of mental health services near them or a suicide hotline on there and family and friends.

What NOT to say

While there are many things you can do that would be helpful to someone who is in danger of hurting themselves, there are things that you should avoid saying to them.

“You’re just doing this for attention.”

A huge misconception is that people expressing suicidal thoughts are seeking negative attention. On the contrary, if they are looking for attention, it’s because they are seeking help.

“People are in worse situations than you, so be grateful for the life you have.”

This is a form of gaslighting that minimizes a suicidal person’s struggle. “Just keep busy- it will keep your mind off it.”

Severe depression can’t be taken away with distraction; the thing with mental illness is that it can be all-consuming if it is severe enough.

“You’re such a downer!” or “ You’re so depressing to be around.”

If you say something like this to a person who has been contemplating suicide, you’ve only validated that person’s feelings of worthlessness.

Why seeking treatment is essential and how to help

One of the most important things you can do for someone who has thoughts of suicide is urge them to seek help. If they’re connected with mental health services, encourage them to contact their therapist.

If you feel the person may be in imminent danger, don’t leave them alone. Make sure that they are escorted to an emergency department or mental health crisis center, even if you have to call emergency services.

Ensure that all means of harm such as guns, knives, poisons, or prescription medication can be removed from their proximity.

After the initial crisis has passed, it’s important to support and encourage ongoing mental health treatment. If the person needs to be connected to a therapist and you live in California, contact Serene Health at 844-737-3638 or visit www.serenehealth.com to schedule an appointment. We offer a wide range of behavioral health and mental health services and are here to help!