Suicide prevention during the pandemic

How to help friends and whānau who can't see a way forward

Lots of people have thought about ending their lives but have found a way through. If you think somebody might be feeling suicidal, there are things you can do to help.

On this page, you can find the following information:

If you need help for yourself please go to our page about having suicidal thoughts or visit the Mental Health Foundation’s page on coping with suicidal thoughts. 

If you're concerned someone may be thinking about suicide, don’t be afraid to ask them directly. A person who is feeling suicidal may not ask for help, but this does not mean that it is not wanted. Asking them will not put the idea in their head.

How to help someone in crisis

If someone has attempted suicide or you're worried about their immediate safety:

  • Call your local mental health crisis assessment team or go with them to the emergency department at your nearest hospital.
  • If they are an immediate physical danger to themselves or others, call 111.
  • Stay with them until support arrives.
  • Remove any obvious means of suicide (such as guns, medicines, car keys, knives, rope).
  • Try to stay calm and let them know you care.
  • Keep them talking: listen and ask questions without judging.

If you think someone is at risk

If you're worried someone might be suicidal, ask them. It could save their life.

  • Ask them if they are thinking about suicide and if so what plans they are making. If they have a clear plan, support them to get help right away by contacting your local mental health crisis team.
  • Ask them if they want to talk to you or someone else about what’s going on for them.
  • Thank them for telling you, let them know you care and make sure someone stays with them until they get help. If you're unsure about their safety call for help from 1737 or your local mental health crisis team. They'll help you decide what to do.
  • Help them find support, like a doctor or counsellor, as soon as possible. Offer to help them make an appointment, and go with them if you can.

Find some ideas on how to start the conversation at Seize the awkward. 

How to be supportive

It can be really hard for a person to tell you they're feeling suicidal. Try to:

  • Be gentle and compassionate. Even if you can't understand why they're feeling this way, try to accept that they are.
  • Be with them and listen – you don't need to have all the answers. 
  • Try to stay calm and hopeful that things can get better. Just because someone is having suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean they're necessarily in danger right now. It is, instead, a sign they are deeply distressed. To get help with figuring out their level of risk, call for help from a professional at 1737 or your local mental health crisis assessment team. 
  • Let them talk about their thoughts of suicide – avoiding the topic does not help. Ask them if they've felt this way before and what they did to cope or get through it. They might already know what could help them.
  • Don't agree to keep secrets about their suicidal thoughts or plans. It's okay to tell someone else so that you can keep them safe.
  • Don't pressure them to talk to you. They might not want to talk, or they might feel more comfortable talking to someone who is not as close to them.
  • Don't try to handle the situation by yourself. Seek support from professionals and other people they trust including family, whānau or friends.

Signs someone may be feeling suicidal

A person who is suicidal might show some of the following signs:

  • tell you they want to die or kill themselves or they don't want to be here any longer
  • get access to things they could use to hurt themselves
  • read or write about suicide online, or post photos or videos about suicide
  • become obsessed with death
  • become isolated or withdrawn from family, whānau and friends
  • don't seem to be coping with any problems they may be having
  • have changes in mood – becoming depressed, angry or enraged
  • hurt themselves
  • feel worthless, guilty, or ashamed
  • have no hope for the future
  • use drugs or alcohol to cope with difficult feelings or thoughts
  • lose or gain a lot of weight, or have unusual eating patterns
  • sleep a lot more than usual, or stop getting enough sleep
  • seem to have lost interest in life, or things they used to enjoy
  • give away possessions, pay back debts or "tie up loose ends"
  • stop taking their medicines
  • suddenly seem calm or happy after they've been depressed or suicidal. 

A person may show some of these signs but not be suicidal. If you think somebody is at risk, it’s okay to ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide. However, not all suicides can be prevented and many can't be predicted.

Signs someone may be in need of immediate help include:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill themselves, eg, direct or indirect statements such as “I wish I was dead” or “does it hurt to die?”.
  • Looking for ways to kill themselves, such as seeking access to pills, weapons or other means.
  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.

Why do people feel suicidal?

People from all walks of life can feel suicidal. Different factors can come together to either increase or decrease a person’s risk of suicide. There are things that can be done that can improve a person’s wellbeing and resilience, and reduce their risk of suicide.

Factors that reduce the risk of suicide Factors that increase the risk of suicide
  • Good whānau and family relationships.
  • Access to secure housing.
  • Stable employment.
  • Community support and staying connected to people.
  • Secure cultural identity.
  • Ability to deal with life’s difficulties.
  • Access to support and help.


  • Bereavement for someone after suicide.
  • Access to ways to end their life.
  • Sense of isolation.
  • History of mental illness, addiction or substance abuse.
  • Previous suicide attempts.
  • Experience of trauma.
  • Exposure to bullying.

Support

If someone you love or care about is feeling suicidal or has died by suicide, then you will need support to get through. For practical information and guidance see our support page or read more about after a suicide. 

Learn more

Being aware of suicide risk factors and why people choose to take their own life can help us understand the warning signs and tipping points that lead to suicide.

Promoting positive mental wellbeing and learning about what help is available are some of the ways we can prevent suicide and suicidal behaviour.

For more information about supporting yourself or someone else who is suicidal, the Mental Health Foundation has the following online factsheets:

Other useful information and resources:

Preventing suicide Ministry of Health, NZ
Suicide prevention resources Mental Health Foundation, NZ
Suicide prevention information for Pasifika communities in NZ
 LeVa NZ
Waka hourua – Māori and Pasifika suicide prevention  Te Au, National Māori Suicide Prevention Centre of Aotearoa
Suicide prevention Lifeline, NZ
Rangatahi suicide prevention Te Puni Kōkiri, NZ
Find out how to tell if someone is struggling with their mental health BBC, UK, 2021
Voices of Hope NZ
FLO Talanoa NZ – A Pasifika suicide prevention education programme for Pasifika communities that is evidence-informed, culturally safe and designed to be led by the community for the community.
You are not alone (resource for people caring for someone with suicidal thoughts) Sane, Australia
National suicide prevention training LifeKeepers, NZ

References

  1. Worried someone is thinking about suicide? Mental Health Foundation, NZ
  2. Suicide prevention strategy and action plan 2019–2024 Ministry of Health, NZ
  3. Suicidal feelings – what to look out for Ministry of Health, NZ, 2021
  4. Understanding suicide in New Zealand Ministry of Health, NZ, 2019
  5. Does depression increase the risk for suicide? Department of Health and Human Services, US, 2014
  6. Gournellis R, Tournikioti K, Touloumi G, et al. Psychotic (delusional) depression and completed suicide – a systematic review and meta-analysis Ann Gen Psychiatry 2018;17:39
  7. Suicide often not preceded by warnings Harvard Health Blog, US, 2012

Reviewed by

Kris Garstang is consulting clinical psychologist at Life Mind Psychology. She has practised as a registered clinical psychologist for over 20 years and is a fellow of the New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists. She has expertise in different evidence-based psychological therapies including cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy. Areas of interest include primary mental health, e-therapies, mental health leadership and workplace wellbeing.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Kris Garstang, Clinical Psychologist, Life Mind Psychology Last reviewed: 21 May 2022