May 3, 2022

Asking ‘the’ question - Are you having thoughts of suicide?

Written By

Asking ‘the’ question -> Are you having thoughts of suicide?

In April 2022, I along with some of my fellow peer supporters, as well as general members of the public, completed a suicide prevention workshop using the easy-to-follow model of safeTALK. The idea of this is to help learn skills and learn how to assist those in crisis. First off, the Life Matters Suicide prevention trust runs many of these workshops throughout the year. They are open to anyone and everyone. I highly recommend attending to everyone no matter who you are or where you are from. It is as important as obtaining a first-aid certificate. If you manage to help even just one person, it was time well spent. Please find more information about upcoming workshops at the bottom of this article. 

I just wanted to write a recap of the skills in things that I felt were the more beneficial and the biggest takeaways. In 2021 we lost 607 members of Aotearoa, and 628 the year before in 2020 to suicide ( To put this in perspective, that’s 12 preventable deaths per week. And It's 12 lives too many. Help prevent suicide. 

The most important and most difficult thing we learnt at our safeTALK workshop was how to ask ‘the’ question. It’s a hard question to ask. But it is an important one. Are you having thoughts of suicide? 

Most commonly, people avoid asking others this question, not because they don’t care or don’t want to help but simply because of what comes next. What if you ask and the person says yes? This is a completely valid fear. It is the equivalent of someone collapsing next to you and realising you don’t know how to give CPR; how do you save this person’s life? Some of you might have basic first aid training and know kind of what to do. Some of you might have never learnt CPR at all. It's all about training. In the same way we learn first aid skills, we should receive training regarding mental health first aid.

Asking someone if they are having thoughts of taking their life, should be as easy as asking the stranger in the shopping centre who just tripped over if they’re okay. Unfortunately, this really isn’t the case. My advice is to always ask if you have that gut feeling. Take a few deep breaths if needed and remind yourself that you might be about to save this person's life.  

What if they say yes? 

Below is my list of the most important things I personality learnt. It’s in no order as I truly believe each point is equally important.

  • Never leave a suicidal person alone 
  • Thank them for telling you. It might’ve been hard for you to ask the question but imagine the courage it took for that person to say yes. Validate their feelings and reassure them that you are going to help them to the best of your ability 
  • Remember it’s not your sole responsibility to save this person’s life, get a team of trusted people, loved ones and friends involved. Take it in shifts if you are busy, you can’t save someone if you are injured or emotionally exhausted yourself. 
  • It’s okay if you are out of your depth. Back to our CPR example, if you don’t know how to give CPR, you would most likely call an ambulance. And just like in this situation when it comes to mental health first aid you can always call for help if you are out of your depth. If you are concerned about someone's immediate safety, always call 111. 
  • If the person you are concerned about isn’t in immediate crisis do your best to help put support in place to stop them from reaching that point. The first point of contact is to call their GP. From there the GP will provide support and options. 

Remember as hard as the question is to ask, it’s harder to answer. You are potentially saving a life. If you are concerned about anyone or need support yourself, please find the information below for support. 

Support links

Helplines are a great resource if you are looking for advice on to help yourself or someone you care about when you are not in immediate crisis 

  • Need to Talk? 1737: free to call or text
  • Depression helpline: 0800 111 757
  • Youthline: 0800376 633 or text 234 
  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or test HELP to 4357

Life Matters Peer Support: Come visit us in the Hope Centre Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm. 

Life Matters Crisis Café: We also have a Crisis Café which operates as a drop in Centre for people experiencing a mental health crisis. This happens every Thursday from 1pm-9pm at our Hope Centre (3 Albion Place, Central Dunedin). You can call 027 240 0114 to let us know you're coming or just drop in on Thursday.

EPS (Emergency Psychiatric services): In Dunedin, you can present to ED. The team can get you in touch with the correct health professionals. Phone 0800 467 846 (press 1 for Southland and 2 for Otago services)

If you are worried about someone's immediate safety please call 111

Upcoming safeTALK workshops

Please check out this link to see our upcoming safeTALK workshops:

This post was written by Petra Van Turnhout