It was Samaritans Day on 24 July entitled #TheBigListen. A 24-hour fundraising campaign to enable the charity continue their crucial work and raise awareness of the importance of listening and lending an ear to others. I saw volunteers at various train stations handing out copies of their SHUSH listening tips and sharing the photos on social media to raise awareness.

Around 20% of the UK population will have suicidal thoughts at any given time. Out of this 20%, 6.7% will go onto attempt suicide. We may feel powerless, as if there is nothing we can do if someone has made the decision to take their own life. However, making time, showing kindness and listening is more powerful than you can ever know. By listening non-judgmentally we can encourage someone to keep talking, which in turn means they are more likely to take action to support themselves before reaching a crisis point.

I have just finished delivering two Mental Health First Aid courses at a fast-paced e-commerce business. The delegates were truly amazing with so much lived experience and knowledge. Some delegates were naturally fearful of saying the wrong thing or coming across as insensitive. Completely understandable especially in a society where talking about death and suicide is very much taboo.

Here are some top tips for starting a conversation if you sense someone may be suicidal or they have shared something with you.

  • Try to be and remain as calm as you can. State you want to listen to them and help them.
  • Try not to show any shock or surprise. This is likely to put distance between you and the person. They may feel judged as a result and less likely to talk.
  • Ask them how long they have been feeling this way
  • Ask them if they have felt like this (using their words) before
  • Ask them about any resources they may have to help themselves
  • Ask them if there is anyone you can call for them, if they want to speak a specific person and/or suggest Samaritans or other relevant helplines.
  • If you don’t feel you can have a conversation with the person but are concerned escalate this by telling a member of staff or asking for help. Whether in the workplace or in public, so at least someone else is aware and can have a conversation with the person. It is also important to inform a manager or appropriate member of staff that you have had a conversation about suicide as part of adult safeguarding and health and safety. Follow any organisational procedures that are in place.

Yes, it can feel daunting, but as this video shows Small Talk can really Save Lives. Don’t be afraid of initiating a conversation, even if you think it sounds a bit clumsy. What someone will remember is the kindness and care you show them. It can make them feel that they are not alone, you care and want to hear what they have to say.

If you need help, you can call Samaritans on 116 123 (free) or email jo@samaritans.org

Have you initiated conversations abut suicide in your workplace? As always let me know what you think by posting in the comments below.

You can find out more about the Mental Health First Aid course run by Diverse Minds here.