Starting difficult conversations

Talking with other staff and students about suicide is important following a suspected suicide; it can help everyone cope with the trauma and grief and help you identify students who may be more vulnerable.

Step by Step is here to support you when starting the more difficult conversations you may need to have at this time.  

If you’re worried about a young person, try to get them to talk to you.

  • Often people want to talk, but won’t speak until someone asks how they are. Try asking open questions, like ‘What happened about...’, ‘Tell me about...’, ‘How do you feel about...’
  • Repeat back what they say to show you understand and ask more questions.
  • Focus on their feelings instead of trying to solve the problem - it can be of more help and shows you care.
  • Respect what they tell you. Sometimes it’s easy to want to try and fix a young person’s problems, or give them advice. Try and let them make their own decisions.


How do I start a conversation with someone I’m concerned about?

You might feel that you don’t know how to help someone, because you don’t know what to tell them or how to solve their problems. You don’t need to be an expert. In fact, sometimes people who think they have the answers to a problem are less helpful.

Don’t forget that every person is different, so what worked for one will not always work for another.

Find a good time and place

Ask gentle questions, and listen with care.

Ask them how they feel. If you’re gentle and calm it’s ok to bring up the subject of self-harm or suicide.

The more open the question the better.

Questions that help someone talk through their problems instead of being able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ are the most useful.

Questions such as:

  • When – ‘When did you realise?
  • Where – ‘Where did that happen?’
  • What – ‘What else happened?’
  • How – ‘How did that feel?’
  • Why – be careful with this one as it can make someone defensive. ‘What made you choose that?’ or ‘What were you thinking about at the time?’ are more effective.


Find out how they feel

Revealing their innermost emotions – anger, sadness, fear, hope, jealously, despair and so on — can be a huge relief.

It sometimes also gives clues about what the person is really most worried about.

Check that they know where to get help

Useful questions you might ask them include:

  • ‘Who else have you talked to about this?’
  • ‘How do you feel about getting some help?’
  • ‘Would you like me to come with you?’

If you say something that appears to cause more upset, don’t panic:

  • show you are listening;
  • look after yourself, and talk to someone too.

You can always talk to Samaritans. Find out how to contact the helpline and what to expect from the service

Next: Find out more about how to deal with memorials