Two men standing with their arm around each other.
How do you help a man who is suicidal?Image by: Movember
Two men standing with their arm around each other.
10 July 2023

How you can help with suicide prevention

4 minutes read time

For some perspective: that amounts to a man a minute. Not only that, but the tragedy of suicide has a ‘ripple effect’ – each suicide death is thought to affect about 130 people.

Quite simply, the male suicide rate is too high. It’s why Movember is committed to advocating for a world where men don’t die early. It's a huge and complicated issue. Yet, we also know that most suicides can be prevented.

Everyone can play their part in preventing suicide – including you.

Why is the male suicide rate so high?

Suicide is a complex issue.

Whatever someone is going through may be a response to complex trauma, the death of a loved one, separation, loss, bullying, mental illness, substance abuse, or something else that's highly distressing. It could also be brought on by life-changing events, stress at work or school, or social pressure. What’s important to know is that there is no threshold for these feelings, no one ‘reason’ for suicide. Instead, its often an accumulation over time that ebbs and flows, compounding underlying stress as the combined weight leaves someone feeling overwhelmed.

How do I know if someone is having suicidal thoughts?

When someone is feeling suicidal and they’re seriously contemplating taking their own life, it's called suicidal ideation. They may feel like they have nobody to turn to, or that nobody will understand what they're experiencing. It's important to know the signs that someone is struggling, even if they're subtle or hard to spot.

Some common suicide warning signs include:

  • Social withdrawal. They start avoiding social interactions or isolate themselves from others.
  • Mood swings. Keep an eye on frequent and intense mood changes, such as increased irritability, sadness, or just feeling resigned.
  • Disturbed sleep. How they sleep may have changed significantly. They might have trouble sleeping, or they're sleeping too much.
  • Drugs and alcohol. An unusual or sudden increases in alcohol or drug use.
  • They let themself go. They unexpectedly stop taking care of their appearance, their personal hygiene, or their home.
  • Giving away possessions. They start giving away sentimental or valuable belongings.
  • Risk-taking. They do impulsive actions or engage in risky activities despite the consequences.

Remember, someone thinking about suicide might not explicitly say they are. However, they might drop hints or indirectly flag where they're at. For instance, they might mention things like "I can't go on like this" or "I just want to end the pain." Or they might start talking unusually about death or dying.

It's important to know that these signs don't automatically mean someone's having suicidal thoughts. However, they can still be what starts a life-saving conversation.

How can I help a man who is thinking about suicide?

Does your Spider Sense tell you something's not right? If you think someone's in a bad headspace, but you're not sure how to start a conversation, Movember's Spot The Signs has the tools to help you take action. Use the ALEC method to steer you in the right direction.

Here's how it works:

Ask them if they're thinking about taking their own life, if they have a plan, have the method in place, or a timeline. If they answer "yes" to any of these, they may need immediate support. Of course, the ALEC method explains how to start these conversations. It also has crucial steps for how to respond if you sense someone's brushing it off. For instance, what do you do if someone says "I'm fine" when you sense they're not?

Listen to what they have to say, and give them your full attention. Don't try and fix all their problems – even if what you're hearing is heavy and serious. You're there to listen and support.

Encourage action by getting them to seek support. Again, your job is to show someone you’ve got their back. One good way to do this is to is to encourage them to do more of the good things that made them feel better in the past. If they've been feeling low for more than two weeks, now's a good time to also suggest talking to their doctor (of course, if someone’s in crisis, call a crisis line while you’re there with them).

Check in regularly to see how they're travelling. In-person is always best. Aim to catch up and do something fun. If that doesn't work, try online or a call. Again, this way they know you've got their back. Just don't leave them hanging.

ALEC conversations can be surprisingly straightforward, once you know what to do.

And if you're not sure what to say? Check out these practice conversations to learn the essential skills. They could well save someone's life.

Common suicide myths and misconception

This last point deserves a special mention: there's a lot of misinformation out there about suicide. Tragically, it can actually make the problem worse.

One of the most common suicide myths is that someone who is talking about suicide is just doing it "for attention." This is not true. If someone talks about taking their own life, it is important that you take them seriously.

Another myth is that talking about suicide with someone who is suicidal makes them more likely to want to die. In fact, the opposite is true: people who get a chance to open up and share where their mind is at often find some relief from the overwhelming thoughts of hopelessness and emotional pain.

If in doubt, seek advice from an actual, qualified professional, and get your information from reputable sources.