Mental Health

Talking about Suicide and Self-harm

Knowing that someone is feeling desperate enough to be suicidal can provoke a wide range of emotions, including fear, anger and helplessness.

Someone can feel suicidal and yet not want to die; what they want is for their pain and distress to stop, and they cannot see any other escape from the apparent hopelessness of their situation.

Their risk of suicide may be increased by the means they are considering and the by the opportunities available to them, and also by previous experience of their own or other people’s suicide attempts.

People may express varying degrees of ambivalence about suicide, and may feel more inclined to act on the urge to kill themselves at some times than at others (for example, when they have been drinking, or when they hear of someone else’s suicide).

Warning signs that someone may be suicidal can include:

  • A noticeable change in behaviour, especially if the person becomes withdrawn.
  • Expressing feelings of failure, hopelessness and low self-esteem.
  • Talking about suicide, not wanting to live or not seeing a future.
  • Not looking after themselves, such as not eating or looking after their appearance.
  • Problems with sleeping, especially early-morning waking.
  • Suddenly tidying up their affairs, e.g. disposing of possessions or taking out life-insurance.
  • Starting to apparently recover from a period of depression.

If you think someone may be feeling suicidal, encourage them to talk about how they are feeling, and listen without trying to cheer them up or trivialise what they are saying in any way.

If possible, discuss any ambivalence they are feeling, and draw up strategies for seeking help when the suicidal thoughts occur. This might include a list of contact details (such as friends, family, health professionals, help-lines) to keep readily available for the person to call upon when feeling at risk of suicide.

Free mental health e-learning for all University staff

Samaritans: 116 123
C.A.L.L. 0800 132 737 (or Text: Help to 81066)


Deliberate self-harm is used by some people as a survival strategy to help them manage extreme pain and distress.

A person may use self-harm to numb or to externalise emotional pain and to feel temporary relief.

Self-harm may enable the distressed person to feel more in control and able to cope.

Please remember that you should not hold serious anxieties about someone else on your own. Ask the person to see their GP or a Mental Health Adviser or Counsellor. If you feel the person is in great danger and will not approach anyone for help themselves, you should speak to a Mental Health Adviser, Student Counsellor or the Community Mental Health Team. They will support you and help clarify the best course of action. (See Emergency Flowchart for in office hours or out of office hours).

The Little Blue Book of helpful numbers – Mental Health