How To Have A Life-Saving Conversation

10th September, 2021

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, a very important day to us at Healthy Hospo.

Suicide is something that has touched our lives in different ways.

Today we reflect on the people we have lost, the people who have survived, and we push to educate others on how we can prevent suicide in the future.

This article has been created alongside ZSA's Suicide Prevention Training.

We strongly urge everyone to complete this training. It doesn't take long, it's free and if we all did this we could save so many more lives. There is a link to access the course at the end of this article.

Here's, How To Have A Life-Saving Conversation


  1. Notice the warning signs
  2. Open up a conversation
  3. Sign-post to support

1. Notice The Warning Signs

If you are concerned about a friend or notice a change in their behaviour, look out for the following signs that could indicate they are having suicidal thoughts:

  • They say they feel like a burden
  • They say they are letting people down
  • They feel worthless
  • They are isolating themselves / avoiding social contact more than usual
  • They feel like they don’t belong
  • They have a family history of depression / suicide
  • They’ve attempted suicide in the past
  • They’ve recently had a relationship breakdown
  • LGBTQ+ communities & men under 50 are more at risk
  • They look distressed, have been crying, are alone, don’t have any belongings
  • They’re defensive when you ask if they’re OK

2. Open Up A Conversation

It is important to act as soon as you feel concern as this could be your only opportunity to help. Remember, some people only open up when they’re asked, even if you’re close to them. Opening up is the first step to getting them help, so time is the essence.

1. Encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling

Reassure them they can talk to you, that you care and that you’re there for them. You don’t need to have the perfect words to say. Be yourself, and show the person that you care.

2. Compassionately listen, acknowledge their distress and remain calm.

Many people who experience suicidal thoughts feel worried about opening up. Naturally you may feel upset, but try and remain calm and hold this emotion for a time when you can safely express it.

3. Give them space to be open with you and be patient

Let your friend speak in their own time. If they don’t feel comfortable opening up completely, be patient and reassure them you are there when they feel ready. Gentle encourage them to continue the conversation.

4. Ask direct questions

There is much stigma attached to the word ‘suicide’ but it’s important to be direct to avoid confusion. If you’re OK to say it, it lets them know that they’re OK to say it. Try saying, “Sometimes when someone is feeling low they can think about suicide. Have you been thinking about ending your life?” Or simply saying, “are you feeling suicidal?”

5. Ask if they’ve already done something to hurt themselves already, or whether they’ve made a plan

This will help you to provide the right kind of assistance. If they have already done something and they’re health is at risk, you know to take them to A&E. If they’ve made a plan, ask specifics about their plan so you can remove anything that could harm them from their possession.

6. Let them know suicide isn’t the only option

When people feel suicidal they often feel there is only one way out. Let them know there are other options. Reassure them that they deserve help and that you are there for them.

3. Sign-Post To Support

  • Prepare for this before the conversation, if possible

Samaritans, Papyrus, Hub of Hope, Mind Charity and CALM are organisations that can help (see last page). If they need help urgently, stay with them until they are safe or take them to A&E.

  • Make plans to catch-up again

Tell them you’re glad you had a conversation and reassure them you care and are here for them in the future. Arranging a time to catch-up the next day is a good way of showing your support and means they are less likely to put themselves in danger immediately.

4. List Of Resources & Available Support

ZSA Suicide Prevention Training

Samaritans (open 24/7): 116 123 or email [email protected]

Suicide prevention advice for young people, Papyrus: 0800 068 4141

To find support in your local are use the Hub Of Hope database

Talk about mental health or get help nearby, Mind Charity: 0300 123 3393

Support line and chat on CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) 0800 58 58 58

Access mental health info, NHS: 111