How to help a mate who is thinking about suicide
Life has its ups and downs, and sometimes those downs can feel unbearably heavy. It’s not uncommon for people we care about to go through tough times, facing emotions that might seem overwhelming.
Additionally, it can be pretty hard for some men to express their feelings. They may be embarrassed or worried they’ll be seen as weak. They may think they don’t have anyone to talk to, or just don’t know where to start to look for help. This is where you can provide support. You can let your mate know that you are there to listen and are there for them when they need it the most. Because being a true mate means being there in the tough times as well as the good.
Suicide warning signs
If someone is thinking about suicide, chances are they’ll be showing signs in the way they look, act or talk. If your mate is really struggling, they might not want or be able to talk to you about how they are feeling, but these warning signs can give you a clue that something is wrong.
Change in their behaviour
- Quitting or losing interest in things they used to enjoy (e.g. sports)
- Emotional outbursts, or crying for no apparent reason
- Acting dangerously or irresponsibly (e.g. driving recklessly)
- Unusual aggression or fighting
- Not going out or withdrawing from mates
- Getting very drunk or high
- Giving away their belongings
- Tiredness or loss of energy
- Sleeping too much or too little.
Change in their appearance
- Eating too much or too little, or putting on or losing weight
- Looking unusually scruffy, or not paying attention to personal hygiene (e.g. not showering)
- Signs they might have hurt himself on purpose – unusual scars, burn marks or bruises.
Change in the way they talk
- Feeling hopeless about the future – “There’s just no point.”
- Feeling alone – “No one understands.”
- Wanting escape – “I need to get out; I can’t deal with this anymore.”
- Feeling guilty – “It’s all my fault.”
- Feeling helpless – “It doesn’t matter what I do, bad things just happen to me.”
Sometimes people will make more obvious reference to suicide. They might talk about or plan for suicide, write a suicide note, or threaten to kill or hurt themselves. This is not attention-seeking. If someone threatens to hurt or kill themselves, take it seriously. Stay with them if they’re at risk and get help as soon as you can. In an emergency, call 000.
An important part of being a good mate is reaching out when someone is struggling.
If your mate is showing a few warning signs and you think something might be up, don’t ignore them. Good mates step up and take action.
If you feel comfortable, talking to your mate is a good place to start. Find time to have a chat somewhere private, preferably when you’re both relaxed and can talk openly without being interrupted. Ask them how things are going.
Here are some tips to start the conversation:
- If you’re not sure how to start, try letting them know what you’ve noticed. “Hey mate, I’ve noticed you haven’t really been yourself lately. You seem down, and you haven’t been at footy training. Is something up?”
- Stay calm and listen to what they have to say without judging them.
- Don’t dismiss their problems. Try to be reassuring.
- Tell them that you care about them and are there to support them.
- If you think they might be thinking about suicide, don’t be afraid to ask them directly. It won’t put the idea in their head or make them more likely to go through with it – that’s a myth. If they are feeling suicidal, they might be relieved they can talk about it openly. “It sounds like things are really tough for you at the moment. Have you ever had thoughts of wanting to die?”
- Provide reassurance that they are not in this alone.
- If they do feel suicidal, they might be worried about what would happen if other people find out. They may ask you to keep it a secret or promise not to tell anyone. Don’t agree to keep it a secret. You cannot take on this burden alone. Encourage the person to seek professional help. You’ll be making sure they get help and possibly even saving their life.
- If they tell you they’re suicidal, remember you can call a helpline together to get some immediate support.
- Ask them to promise that if they have suicidal thoughts, they will reach out and tell someone.
- Try and encourage them to speak to or see a professional. “Mate, have you ever thought about talking to a counsellor? They’re trained at this kind of stuff – I reckon it could be worth seeing someone. You don’t have to go through it alone.”
- If they don’t want to talk, don’t give up. Try another time, or let someone else (their partner, parents, a counsellor, another mate) know you’re worried.
Getting the right help
Supporting a mate to get professional help when they’re feeling overwhelmed or suicidal is important. Encourage them to speak to a doctor, counsellor, psychologist or other health professional. Offer to go with them for support if they’re feeling uneasy. Their GP is a good place to start, as they’ll know what services are available in their area and be able to refer them on if it’s appropriate.
They might also find telephone counselling helpful. It means they can talk to a trained counsellor at any time of the day or night. Give them the following numbers (all 24/7) and encourage them to call if they need to.
If it is an emergency or you are concerned for your or the person’s safety in any way:
- Call 000 and request an ambulance. Stay on the line, speak clearly, and be ready to answer the operator’s questions
- Attend your local hospital’s emergency department
- Call your local Public Emergency Mental Health Service.
Looking after yourself
Seeing a mate suicidal is pretty upsetting and stressful. It’s important you look after yourself too.
Make sure you’re still eating and sleeping properly, managing your stress levels and taking time out. Talk to someone you trust – your mates, your family or your partner. If you need some extra help, get in touch with a counsellor or other professional to have a chat about the situation, and how you can cope.
It’s also really important that you remember that no matter what happens, the way your mate’s feeling or behaving isn’t your fault. You’re not responsible for their actions, but you can support them and encourage them to get help.
If you need to talk to someone, give one of our MensLine Australia counsellors a call on 1300 78 99 78 or access online counselling by clicking on the floating chat button.
If it is an emergency, call 000.