How to Spot and Help a Suicidal Person

Recently there was a story in the local news about an old lady who had to go through the unthinkable ordeal of her grand-daughter committing suicide then, shortly after, her daughter (the mother of the girl who killed herself) committing suicide too.

The young girl was only 16 years old and decided to kill herself because she scored 2 B’s instead of her usual straight A’s. Her mother blamed herself for her daughter’s death because she was putting too much pressure on her daughter to do well in school. So much so that she decided to kill herself too.

Read the original news story here:

It is easy to get into a debate on the pressures of Singapore life and the need to excel academically but that is not the point of this article. What I would like to discuss here is how we can spot people around us who might be at risk of suicide and what we can do to stop them from killing themselves.

Everyday more than 100 people in Singapore think about suicide enough to call a helpline. Everyday 4 to 5 people in Singapore will try to kill themselves. Everyday at least one of them will succeed.

These are the true frightening statistics of suicide in Singapore.

If you know of someone who is going through a tough time, here are some things to look out for and some ways you can help. Who knows? Perhaps you may save a life.

How do you know if someone is at suicide risk?

Everybody feels down sometimes. Most people do not think of killing or harming themselves.

Before attempting suicide, a person will have to think about it and plan for it. This is the time that we must be able to identify them and help them.

It is understandably almost impossible to determine if someone is at significant risk of suicide or not. But here are some warning signs:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill self – Saying something like “I’m going to die” is very different from “I’m going to kill myself”. The more details the person gives, the more dangerous the situation is. If the person already has decided when and how he is going to kill himself, immediate intervention is required. All suicidal ideations and suicidal threats need to be taken seriously.
  • Looking for ways to kill self – This could be collecting sleeping pills or looking for the tallest building in the neighbourhood.
  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide – The more death occupies a person’s mind, the more aware you have to be.

Other signs to look out for include:

  • Telling others to help look after their children, parents or pets when they are gone.
  • Updating their wills.
  • Making arrangement to pay bills.
  • Saying goodbye to love ones.
  • Increasing drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Withdrawal from friends, family or society.
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking

Sinister mood changes include:

  • Hopelessness
  • Rage, anger, seeking revenge
  • Feeling trapped – like there’s no way out
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Dramatic changes in mood
  • No reason for living, no sense of purpose in life

Be more wary if:

  • He has previously been treated by a doctor for depression or other mental issues.
  • He recently had a severe life event like losing his job or a death in the family.
  • He has a chronic medical illness.
  • He has attempted suicide before.

What you can do to help.

If you know of anyone who may be thinking of killing himself/herself, you need to talk to them about it. It is a myth that talking about suicide will plant the though in the person’s head. Use the acronym ALERT to remember what you can do.


Ask – Talking about suicide will not increase the risk of suicide. Ask them how they feel and if they have been thinking of hurting themselves. Don’t be surprised if they do not want to talk to you or become angry. If they will not open up to you, get someone like a close friend or sibling they will more likely open up to to talk to them.

Listen – Do not be judgemental. Do not give your opinions. Do not try to solve their problems. Do not lecture. Do not teach. Just listen. It also helps to be encouraging.

Empathise – Let them know you understand how they feel. This is not sympathy. You are not feeling sorry for them.

Reassure – Let them know things are not as bad as they think it is. Give hope for the future.

Take on responsibility – Make them promise you that they will not hurt themselves or do anything foolish.


Criticise – This is not the time to tell them how many bad decisions they have made. Be supportive and just listen.

Offer specific advice – Although well meaning, specific advice can often have the opposite effect. As outsiders, we rarely can completely grasp all the details and nuances of the problem. Provide support and let them sort out the problems themselves.

Intrude – Some things are private. Do not probe too much. Let them tell you what they are comfortable telling you.

Nag – Nobody likes to be told over and over again what to do.

An example on how to start the conversation with one question leading naturally to another is this:

Are you feeling hopeless about the present or future?

If yes ask…..

Have you had thoughts about taking your life?

If yes ask….

When did you have these thoughts and do you have a plan to take your life?

Have you ever had a suicide attempt?

Last and most important: Look for Help.

Get professionals involved in the process. You are definitely well meaning and can do a lot to help your friend or loved one. However, there will come a time when he/she needs more professional guidance of counselling.

Your local neighbourhood GP is a good place to start.

If not you can call any of these helplines:


Samaritans of Singapore (SOS): 1800 221 4444

Family Service Centre: 1800 838 0100

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800 283 7019

Seniors Helpline (for the elderly): 1800 555 5555

Care Corner Mandarin Counselling Centre (for Mandarin speakers): 1800 353 5800

Touchline (Touch Youth Service): 1800 377 2252

Tinkle Friend (for children): 1800 274 4788 on weekdays


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