​​​Suicide is an issue that many people, with or without mental health conditions, may struggle with at some point in their lives, but one that is often left unspoken. One of the biggest consequences of silence is that people who need help may end up not getting it. According to the World Health Organisation approximately 800,000 lives are lost to suicide each year. While mental health conditions, especially mood disorders, may make one more vulnerable to suicidal behaviours, factors such as acute emotional distress, relationship difficulties and isolation, sudden life changes and chronic illness can also play a part.

People who show suicidal behaviour (thinking of ending one’s life, planning a suicide, making an attempt, acting upon plans) tend to suffer in silence due to fear of stigmatisation, judgment, and a lack of understanding from their loved ones and people around them. This may, in turn, reinforce a sense of hopelessness and helplessness about their situation and emotional state.

Talking to someone about their suicidal behaviours may be difficult, but it is an important first step in helping them. It gives the person the opportunity to share his or her feelings and thoughts, provides emotional relief, and alleviates isolation and hopelessness. Talking about it openly also allows you to better understand the person’s situation and helps you feel more equipped to provide help.

Here are some pointers to keep in mind when initiating this conversation if you think someone might have suicidal behaviours. There are no fixed questions or responses, but your attitude and stance are important.

  • Be sensitive but ask direct questions in a way that allows the person to be honest with you about how they are feeling and thinking. For instance, "I notice you have been having a really hard time lately, and sometimes when people are going through a tough time, they may think of suicide. Have you been thinking this way?"
  • Do not trivialise their problems or make judgments. Listen with an open mind. While it is often difficult to fully understand another person's plight, focus on identifying and empathising with how the person's problem is making him or her feel.
  • Communicate your care and concern and your willingness to be there for them. For instance, say "I care about you and I am worried about how much distress you are experiencing. Can we talk about ways I or people around you can help?" Help can take different forms, such as companionship, a listening ear, helping the individual make an appointment with a helping professional or looking at ways to ameliorate the problems that is causing them distress.

For assistance, call these 24-hour helplines – Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221 4444, Mental Health Helpline: 63892222

Talking About Suicidal Behaviours