Around 200 young people die by suicide every year in England. Many young people say they often feel lonely and that it's difficult to get the help and support they need.
The Samaritans spoke to young people across England. Many of them said that their loneliness played a role in causing their suicidal thoughts.
A lot of those young people said they didn’t feel able to talk to anyone about their experience of loneliness, because of the stigma around the subject of loneliness. The research also found that when young people did ask for help, it often wasn’t available or suitable for their needs.
There is rarely one reason for a young person to feel suicidal. Just as suicide is complex, so is loneliness – it is a personal experience that's unique for every person. And – it is clear that there is a strong link between loneliness and suicide.
Suicide is a complex behaviour usually caused by a range of factors and is rarely the result of a single event or problem.
Talking about suicide with young people can feel very daunting – perhaps there is a fear that talking about suicide will somehow makes this worse, or escalate things. There is no evidence this is true - and it is incredibly important that we do not shy away from this conversation. Whether the young person is experiencing suicidal ideation themselves, or they have been bereaved by suicide, it is important they feel they can talk to someone.
Talking about suicide, without fear or judgement, in a calm and straightforward way, and providing information and support; are all ways of helping young people to process their feelings or make sense of what has happened.
Non-judgemental listening is crucial when talking to young people about suicide. It helps young people feel safe, accepted and supported.
It’s important to be sensitive when talking to young people about suicide, as it is surrounded by so much stigma, taboo and fear.
If you suspect a young person is experiencing thoughts of suicide, it is important to ask clear and direct questions. Some examples could be:
- Are you thinking about suicide?
- Are you thinking about killing yourself?
It is a myth that talking about suicide will put the idea into someone’s head. By asking clearly and directly you are showing the young person that you are a safe person to talk to, and that it ok for them to talk about suicide with you.
Here are some tips for talking to a young person about suicide:
- Be gentle: you could mention any changes you’ve noticed in their behaviour: “I have noticed you’re spending a lot of time alone lately — is something bothering you?”
- Remind them you care: young people who are thinking about suicide might be worried they’re a burden, so it’s important to communicate to them that you care and want to help them.
- Be direct: ask the young person if they are considering suicide: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” If the answer is “yes,” it is important to find out if they have a plan: “How are you planning to do it?” The more detailed the plan, the higher the level of risk.
- Reassure them help is available, and that you have hope for them: tell them that things can get better, and that you’ll support them in finding help.
- Be transparent. Don’t make promises you can’t keep – if there is a risk of harm, you must get immediate professional help – be honest about that.
- Be judgemental: let the young person share how they feel and avoid interrupting as they share their story.
- Talk too much: Listen! Don’t be tempted to fill any the silences in the conversation. It can take time for the young person to articulate how they feel. Reassure them you have time for them.
- Minimize: avoid minimizing or invalidating the young person’s feelings by saying things like, “Life isn’t fair,” or “It’ll pass.”- it might make them feel like they aren’t being heard.
If a young person has a plan to die by suicide:
Do not leave the young person alone and get emergency help right away. You can call emergency services or contact the Childrens’ and Adolescents’ Mental Health Services (CAMHS) Crisis Team.
Getting help for yourself:
Knowing that a young person in your life may be thinking about suicide is incredibly difficult. As a parent, family member, friend or caregiver, you may feel some fear and judgement. You may even feel guilt and shame. This is normal.
Just as support for the young person is essential, support for you is crucial during this time. It’s important that you have a network of trusted people you can talk to about your feelings - don’t have to go through this alone.