Taiohi/young people know suicide is a big issue in Aotearoa, and they know it affects most of us in some way.
They may come across it through the media, they may know someone who has died by suicide or be supporting a friend who is feeling suicidal. They may have had thoughts of suicide themselves.
Although it can feel hard to kōrero/talk about the tough stuff, it’s important that we can all have safe, open, honest and compassionate kōrero about suicide so our taiohi feel heard, supported and understood.
The Connecting Through Kōrero guidebook and videos are for parents, caregivers, teachers, counsellors, aunties, uncles, friends and other whānau members - anyone who cares about taiohi and needs tautoko/support and guidance to kōrero with them about suicide. Watch the video(s) that best suit your situation and read through the sections below, and see our Useful resources page for additional information.
If you are concerned that taiohi in your life may be having thoughts of suicide right now, this resource will not be useful to you. Instead visit our Worried about someone webpage for more information.
How to safely talk about suicide
If you notice something is up with someone in your whānau, start the kōrero.
You don’t have to be an expert to kōrero about suicide – you just have to be willing to listen with aroha.
There is tautoko/ support available to help whānau through tough times.
Suicide in the media
If you notice a taiohi/young person seems distracted or distressed it’s important to check in with them.
Taiohi can be affected by reading about or seeing suicide on screen, online, in books or in the media. It’s important to ask how they’re doing and acknowledge their thoughts and feelings.
There is no single reason why a person dies by suicide, but whatever they were feeling/experiencing at that time they were not able to see a better future for themselves.
When a celebrity dies by suicide
It’s normal and okay for people to be affected by news of a celebrity suicide.
Suicide can touch anyone.
It’s important not to judge people.
When youth joke about suicide
Flippant language around suicide can be distressing – words can hurt.
Jokes about suicide can be a way to cope with tough things in life. It’s important to check in with taiohi if you’re concerned.
It’s important to challenge taiohi about the use of language and reflect on what they say.
You can empower taiohi to role-model change and make safer environments for everyone.
When a young person's supporting a mate
Check in with a taiohi/young person if you’re worried they’re trying to handle a tough situation alone.
Taiohi are most likely to turn to a friend if they’re going through a difficult time, or feeling suicidal. This can be very challenging for the friend.
Help your taiohi understand they can’t fix a situation or solve it alone.
If you are supporting a friend who is having suicidal thoughts it is important to tell a trusted adult and not carry that situation on your own.
It isn’t weak to get support when going through tough times.
Before the kōrero
When should I kōrero with taiohi about suicide?
Anytime is a good time to connect through kōrero manaaki/supportive conversations.
- When someone they know or someone in their hapū, school or community has died by suicide.
- When they are supporting a friend through a difficult time.
- When someone they admire (e.g., a celebrity or YouTuber) has died by suicide.
- When they are watching a TV show or movie or reading a book that features suicide.
- When they ask questions about suicide, such as “Why do people kill themselves?”.
- When you are worried a taiohi may be suicidal.
Let them know you are there to kōrero whenever they are ready. They might not be ready right now – that’s OK. Keep checking in, and make sure they know of a number of different people and places they can turn to.
If you are worried that a taiohi may be considering their own suicide, then you need to act urgently. See Worried about someone for more information. Call 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor. If you or the taiohi are in immediate danger call 111.
Am I the right person to kōrero with taiohi about suicide?
If you have a trusting relationship with the taiohi and are in a good headspace to kōrero about suicide, then you might be the right person. Ask yourself:
- Am I in the right headspace to kōrero calmly?
- What personal experiences, values, cultural or religious beliefs do I hold around suicide? How may they influence this kōrero?
- Am I ready to truly listen without judgement?
- Can I accept they may not want to kōrero with me about this?
- Do I have the time and energy to have a kōrero that might be difficult and emotional?
- Do I know where I can find more information about suicide and suicide prevention?
If you feel someone else, like a kaumātua, cousin or counsellor may be a better person to have the kōrero, you can see if they are comfortable to reach out to the taiohi.
Where to have the kōrero
It’s important to find a place that is comfortable for you and the taiohi you are having the kōrero with.
Try to have the kōrero kanohi ki te kanohi/in person whenever possible. Somewhere like a car, where you are next to each other, or when you are on a walk can feel like a less intimidating place to kōrero.
Sometimes you may not be able to choose where to kōrero, especially if the taiohi initiates it or the subject comes up in a classroom situation. Use your judgement to decide whether it’s OK to address the discussion right then or if it would be better to suggest another time.
Looking after yourself
Whatever the kōrero about suicide might be, it can be difficult. You may find it distressing, so it’s important to look after your own wellbeing.
It’s always OK for you to get tautoko/support and guidance, advice or just chat with a friend if you need to. You won’t be letting anyone down. Be kind to yourself and take time out when you need to. If you need some support for yourself, see the helpline section at the bottom of this page.
Something to consider
If a younger taiohi has heard about suicide or is feeling upset, it’s important to kōrero with them too. Here are some tips to help you recognise when a younger taiohi may need extra aroha and support.
There are simple things you can do to reassure and comfort them:
- Ask them how their tinana/body feels. Distress in younger taiohi can often present in ways such as a sore puku/tummy.
- If you notice changes in their mood or behaviour, let them know it’s alright to not feel happy all the time.
- Spend time playing their favourite games, reading their favourite books or enjoying their favourite food.
- Suggest they take a special toy to bed with them for comfort.
You can have the kōrero – here’s how
Manaaki/listening with compassion
It’s important to kōrero/talk about suicide in safe, supportive ways, no matter how challenging and emotional it may be.
Compassionate kōrero creates feelings of safety and allows us to be open and understanding with each other. Some people may find having kōrero about suicide in a compassionate way difficult, depending on your experiences or beliefs. It’s important to take some time to think about how you can have an open mind and listen without judgement or blame.
Show compassion by:
- Listening carefully, without judgement. Try repeating key things back to the person to be sure you’ve understood, e.g., “Since your friend died, you’ve been feeling angry and keep wondering what went wrong, eh?”.
- Not making assumptions. You might think you know how a taiohi/young person feels about a situation, but let them tell you in their own words. Prompt them by asking “What are your thoughts about this?”.
- Being mindful of your body language. Give the taiohi your full attention.
Two guiding elements
- Kia tika: being direct
- Kia pono: being open
Kia tika/being direct
- You might be fearful that having a kōrero about suicide may plant the idea in someone’s head, but this will not happen.
- It’s OK not to use the word ‘suicide’ if you don’t want to. You can use different terms, such as ‘wanting to end their life’ or talking about someone feeling ‘deep sadness’. It can be helpful to mirror the words that the taiohi/young person chooses to use.
- Tell the taiohi why you are having the kōrero (e.g., “I know that the singer you like died by suicide, do you want to talk about it?”).
- Be direct, honest and up front. Don’t be afraid of using the word ‘suicide’ but be aware explicit details can be overly distressing and unnecessary to the kōrero. Try to think about what the taiohi will be able to cope with and what they might not wish to discuss or learn about. We know some kōrero about suicide can pose a risk to some people. See the ‘kōrero to avoid’ section for more information.
Kia pono/being open
Show the taiohi that you are willing to have open, honest kōrero.
- Let them know you understand this is a tricky topic, and that it can be hard for you to understand too.
- Listen to their thoughts and feelings and let them know it’s OK to feel that way (even if you can’t relate to their experiences and feelings).
- Try not to judge or shame the taiohi for how they think or feel.
- Thank and acknowledge them for being willing to kōrero.
- Be honest when they ask questions you don’t have the answers to, and work together to find them.
Seeing or hearing about suicide in the media or a book/film or television
Taiohi/young people can be affected by reading about or seeing suicide on screen, online, in books or in the media.
Sometimes the messages about suicide can be confusing and suicide scenes can be extremely disturbing. Taiohi can find it difficult to make sense of thoughts and feelings about what they have seen or heard. Having open and direct kōrero/ conversations can help taiohi challenge the messages and understand how we can all help prevent suicide.
Kia tika: being direct
- “Are you OK after watching/hearing/seeing that?”
- “It’s important you kōrero with me or someone else if you’re feeling upset about what you’ve seen/read/heard. It can really help.”
Kia pono: being open
- “I’ve heard that lots of people are watching this TV series. Apparently it deals with some big issues and has some really graphic scenes. Have you seen it?”
- “I noticed that the book you were reading had a suicide in it. Do you want to chat about it?”
Taiohi supporting taiohi
Taiohi are most likely to turn to a friend if they’re going through a difficult time, are suicidal or have made a suicide attempt. This can place enormous stress on taiohi, especially if the friend they are supporting has told them not to tell anyone..
Help your taiohi understand they can’t fix this or solve it alone. Kōrero about ways in which their friend can be supported by others, like a school counsellor or trusted adult. Acknowledge it’s a hard position for them to be in, but explain that getting support for their friend is the important and caring thing to do.
Kia tika: being direct
- “You are a wonderful friend, but you can’t handle this on your own. We can go and kōrero with the school counsellor about them together.
- “I know they didn’t want you to tell anyone. But getting help for them is the best way we can help.”
Kia pono: being open
- “I see that you’ve been spending a lot of time with your friend. Are they doing OK?”
- “You seem worried about your mate at the moment. What’s worrying you?”
Dealing with flippant comments about suicide
Just like anyone, taiohi can use careless language about suicide that might be hurtful to someone who is going through a difficult time. ‘KYS’ and ‘KMS’ are slang expressions that stand for ‘kill yourself’ or ‘kill myself’. When a taiohi uses such phrases, they may not be thinking about what they’re saying or they may be using dark humour as a way to cope with tough things in their life.
Kia tika: being direct
- “Instead of saying ‘KYS’, what else could you have said?”
- “It seems like you’re going through a tough time. How can I help?
Kia pono: being open
- “It’s not OK to make jokes about suicide. I know you didn’t mean to be hurtful, but words can really hurt. What else could you have said in that situation?”
- “I’ve heard you make quite a few jokes about killing yourself lately, and I’m worried. Can we kōrero/talk?”
Kōrero to avoid
Whānau and friends are often concerned about some of the risks involved with having kōrero/conversations about suicide. To help increase your confidence, here are some things to know.
Avoid kōrero that makes suicide seem like a reasonable choice
Sometimes, after someone has ended their life, people might comment that the person is “at peace”, “no longer in pain” or it being “their time”. Other times people may talk about suicide in a way that suggests it’s a logical response to tough situations, e.g., “the kids at school were mean as to him; what choice did he have?”.
When taiohi/young people hear these things, they may feel that suicide will bring peace from pain and is a natural response to challenging times. It’s important not to suggest that suicide is an appropriate way to deal with difficult situations.
Avoid speculating about why someone tried to take their life
It’s common to try to understand the ‘reason’ someone died by suicide and to look for a single cause, such as bullying or a relationship ending. Suicide is complex and a combination of different things such as; feelings, actions, circumstances and unwellness. It is never anyone’s fault.
There is no one single ‘reason’ for someone’s suicide. Whānau and friends of people who die by suicide can find speculation painful. It may feel like they are being blamed. Understanding and tautoko/support and guidance, not judgement is what is needed.
Avoid kōrero about methods of suicide
As much as possible avoid kōrero about the way a person took their life or where they died. If taiohi are already having kōrero about the method, be honest but avoid any unnecessary details. Instead focus on tautoko/support for each other and enable access to support.
When people are already thinking about suicide, hearing about a method can get them thinking “this would be a good way for me to kill myself. I know it works.”
Avoid kōrero about suicide as a selfish act or the way that it has harmed those left behind
Although anger and shame are understandable reactions to a suicide, it’s important to remember that emphasising these feelings increases the stigma, or sense of disgrace, about suicide. This can, in turn, make it difficult for whānau who have lost someone to suicide to share their feelings and can be harmful for people who have had, or are having suicidal thoughts.
Stigma around suicide often causes people to hide suicidal feelings and avoid seeking support. Also, whānau who have been bereaved may be less likely to talk about their feelings and get the tautoko/support they need. This is important because those who have recently been bereaved are at a higher risk of suicide themselves.
Avoid presenting suicide as criminal or sinful
Some religions and cultures consider suicide to be sinful or criminal. You might share these views, but when you are having kōrero about suicide with taiohi, think about the impact such views could have on them.
Presenting suicide as sinful or criminal can make people less likely to reach out for help when they’re going through difficulties because they think they will be judged. Suicide is not a crime.
Responding to pātai/questions
If you’re worried about answering tricky questions, remember it’s best to be open and honest. You don’t need to know all the answers, and it’s OK to say you’re unsure. Here are some suggested ways to respond to some tricky questions.
What is suicide?
- “Suicide is when somebody ends their life.”
- “Suicide is when someone makes their tinana/body stop working.”
Why do people kill themselves?
- “There isn’t an easy answer to that question. Suicide is complicated. There is no one reason why a person may take their life. It’s really hard to understand because there are so many factors.”
- “People who feel suicidal may experience a lot of emotional pain. They believe that dying is the only way to end their pain, and this can also stop them connecting with support and other things that can help them stop hurting.”
How do people kill themselves?
- “Different people try to end their lives in different ways, it doesn’t matter how they died. The important thing is to try and help so that people no longer feel suicidal.”
- “The way people die isn’t as important as supporting people to see a different way out of their pain.”
Whose fault is it?
- “It’s nobody’s fault. However, there are things we can all do to take care of each other and make sure anyone else we know who is feeling sad knows that there is help available.”
- “It’s not your fault. You didn’t cause this. It’s no one’s fault.”
Where to turn for help
If someone you care about is in crisis:
- Call your local mental health crisis assessment team or go with the person to the emergency department (ED) at your nearest hospital.
- If they are in immediate physical danger to themselves or others, call 111 and stay with them until support arrives.
- Remove any obvious means of suicide they might use, e.g., guns, medication, car keys, knives, rope.
- Try to stay calm and let the person know you care.
- Keep them talking: listen and ask questions without judging.
- Make sure you are safe.