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"Let him know he’s not alone, and help him navigate the road to recovery."

Finding out that your boyfriend, husband, or partner is suffering from thoughts of suicide can be overwhelming, leaving you feeling stressed and uncertain about how to help. 

During this difficult time, it’s important to keep in mind that thoughts of suicide are a common symptom of depression. Having thoughts of suicide does not mean your partner wants to quit your relationship or is selfishly thinking of abandoning you – rather, it offers an indication of how severe his depression has become.

Below are some practical tips about how to support your partner: 

1. Know the signs

Thoughts of suicide are a symptom of depression that shouldn’t be taken lightly or brushed aside. Some signs that your partner may be at risk for suicide include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Putting affairs in order
  • Isolation from others
  • Seeking out lethal means
  • Talking about suicide or death

He may say something like:

  • “I wish I wasn’t here.” 
  • “I just want to disappear.”
  • “There’s no point, why go on?”
  • “Sometimes I wish I never woke up.”
  • “People would be better off if I wasn’t around.”
  • “I want to die.”

For more info on how to recognize warning signs, see our page on Managing Suicide Risk.

2. Talk to him about it

Suicide is a serious issue and it can be difficult finding the right words to say when someone you care about is struggling with suicidal thoughts. However, it’s important to have a conversation about it, no matter how tough or uncomfortable it may be. Being able to openly discuss his thoughts will go a long way in making your partner feel supported.

Here are some tips for starting a conversation:

Create a safe space without distraction:

  • Find a private and relaxed place and set aside time to really talk. Avoid, for example, trying to squeeze it in after a stressful day of work. 
  • Your talk should be treated as a priority, not as a quick chat to get over with as quickly as possible. 
  • You want your partner to know from the get-go that you have made time just for him. 

Ask about suicide, but be aware of your guy’s specific needs and approach the conversation accordingly:

For some guys, a direct approach can be overwhelming and may push him away, whereas for others, a direct approach is needed in order to open up the conversation. 

For a direct approach you can try asking:

  • “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”
  • “Are you feeling suicidal?” 
  • “Do you want to end your life?”

For an indirect approach:

Starting with observations about changes in his behavior can be a less threatening way to open up the conversation about suicide. When taking this approach, it’s important to avoid phrasings that could be perceived as blaming him; saying something like, “you have been really irritable and moody recently” is likely to make him feel defensive. Instead, it’s best to frame your observations in terms of “I” statements.

Try saying something along the lines of:

  • “Recently, I’ve noticed some changes in your mood and that you haven’t been sleeping well either. I’m worried about you. How are you doing these days? Is there anything I can help with?”
  • “Hey, I’ve noticed you making some really dark jokes and comments lately about not wanting to be here, and I wanted to make sure you know that I care about you and want you here. I’m here to help and it’s okay to talk about this with me.”
  • “I’ve noticed you seem to be spending more time with your guns lately, and I’m concerned about you. Has something been wearing you down?”

Be calm and listen carefully:

  • If you find yourself trying to formulate a response while he’s speaking, try to refocus and actively listen to everything he has to say, and wait until he is finished talking before you respond.

Normalize his experience:

  • Reassure him that having thoughts of suicide is more common than most people realize, and is nothing to be ashamed of. Many guys have thoughts of suicide, and having them doesn’t mean you will act on them. However, having thoughts of suicide does indicate that some extra professional support is needed. 

Encourage him to be honest: 

  • Having suicidal thoughts can be scary, but because of the unfair expectations that society places on men, many guys dislike acknowledging when they’re feeling scared, which makes it especially hard for them to reveal that they are thinking about hurting themselves. Remind him that you love him and want to fully understand what he is going through, so that you can support him as much as possible. Ask him to be honest about what he needs from you and how you can help him. 

Don’t try to downplay or fix his problems:

  • When you see someone you love hurting, it is natural to want to try and take away their pain by minimizing it or attempting to find an immediate solution to their problems. However, doing so can undermine your partner’s feelings and make him feel judged for his thoughts, which will only worsen the situation. When your partner opens up to you about what he’s going through, it is best to listen empathetically rather than trying to fix it right away.

Offer reassurance: 

  • When a guy is feeling suicidal, it can be difficult for him to imagine that recovery is possible. Validate his experiences and feelings, but remind him that depression is treatable and that you will stand by his side and support him through his recovery.

3. Encourage him to get professional help

Although talking to your partner can go a long way in helping him recover, it does not replace the need for him to speak with a qualified mental health professional. When you care so much about someone, it can be tempting to try to single handedly cure their pain, but attempting to do so can lead to serious problems such as an unhealthy reliance on your relationship for emotional support on his end, and emotional burnout on your end. 

Mental health professionals are specially trained to help people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts, so it’s important to encourage your partner to speak with one, much as you would encourage him to see a doctor if he had a broken arm.

If he needs help finding someone to talk to, our Therapist Directory lists qualified mental health professionals who have experience working with men. You can help him browse by location to find someone in your area, or search online to find local therapists who have experience working with depression. For more information, see our article on How to Find a Therapist for Depression.

Though you shouldn’t try to be his therapist, helping him find one, and offering to make appointments or drive him to them are great ways to offer your support. If you don’t know which services to suggest, call a healthline to learn about options and services in your area. See our Call a Healthline page for local phone numbers.

You and your partner can also check out our HeadsUpGuys Guide to Talk Therapy to get a better sense of what therapy can be like, how to make the most of it, and how to know if it’s working. 

4. Continue to check in with him

An initial conversation with your partner is a great first step, but it needs to be reinforced with later check-ins and conversations that show you are by his side and there for him when he needs to talk. 

Having these conversations can be hard, and it can be tempting to not follow up and hope for the best after discussing it once. But depression and suicidal thoughts don’t go away with one conversation – it takes time. 

By checking in regularly, you show your partner that he doesn’t have to deal with his thoughts alone, which can make a huge difference in helping him feel supported.

5. Create a safe an supportive environment

With his permission, remove potentially dangerous objects (e.g., weapons) from his living area. If you live together, be mindful of where you keep items that could be used to cause bodily harm, and store them somewhere that is out of sight and out of reach to him. This may include medications – talk to him about holding onto them or keeping them someplace out of the way.

You can say something like: 

  • “If it’s okay with you, I’d like to make sure you’re extra safe by putting your hunting knives into storage. I know it may seem like a bit much, but it might be better not having those things around right now.”

6. Try to limit alcohol and substance use

When a person is having suicidal thoughts, they are in a tremendous amount of pain. Your partner may turn to alcohol or other substances hoping to numb his pain, but these substances can worsen depression and dangerously lower impulse control, thereby increasing the potential to act on suicidal thoughts. 

If your partner is struggling with thoughts of suicide, try to limit his access to alcohol and other substances as much as possible. If going to a bar or pub to drink is a typical social activity for the two of you, try alternative ideas that don’t involve alcohol, like going to a cafe, out for dinner, or to see a movie. Even just going for a simple walk helps him get some sunlight, physical activity, and fresh air – all things that are good for his physical and mental health. 

See our Practical Tips page for more simple strategies your partner can use to fight depression, in addition to seeking professional support.

7. Set up a game plan for crisis situations

A mental health crisis is a situation where a person’s actions, feelings, or behaviours could cause them to harm themselves or others. Talk to your partner about what a mental health crisis is, and come up with a plan for what he will do – who he can call, which healthlines should be contacted, and where the nearest hospital is, in the event that he experiences one. Come up with this plan together and make sure he understands and is fully on board.

  • Help him create a list of contacts that includes friends, family, and professionals to call in case of a crisis situation. Some people find it helpful to keep these somewhere easy to access, such as on a card carried in their wallet or as a note saved on their phone, so they don’t get overwhelmed by their thoughts and forget to reach out. 

Your goal shouldn’t be to serve as your partner’s doctor or therapist or ‘force’ him to get better, but rather to support him in his journey toward recovery. Remind him that many guys deal with suicidal thoughts and that he is not alone. Assure him that recovery may take some time and work, but that he is worth it.

Remember that suicidal thoughts are not uncommon and do not mean that a worst case scenario is inevitable. With proper supports, suicide is preventable and recovery is possible.

Written by the HeadsUpGuys Team - Combining lived experience, clinical practice, and research expertise. Reviewed and approved by Dr. John Ogrodniczuk - Professor and Director of the Psychotherapy Program at the Department of Psychiatry, The University of British Columbia.
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