How to Help a Friend that is Considering Suicide
According to the American Psychological Association, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 34 and the fourth-leading cause among people ages 35 to 54 here in the United States. Suicide typically occurs in the context of a major depressive episode, but it may also occur due to substance use or other disorders.
It can be challenging to support someone considering taking their own life. It can bring up feelings of fear, helplessness, or even anger. You might worry that you’ll say the wrong thing and make them feel worse. If this sounds familiar, take a look below to learn a few things to consider while supporting your friend.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This blog post includes information and themes about and related to suicide and suicidal ideation. If you or someone you know is thinking of harming yourself or their selves, feeling suicidal, or is in need of other urgent or emergency mental health care, help or assistance, please seek out immediate medical and mental health attention. If needed, please call the confidential Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 9-8-8. You can also text NAMI at 741741 to reach a crisis counselor.
1. Be Compassionate and Supportive
When someone is contemplating suicide, it means that they are hurting tremendously. They may feel like there is no hope or solution to their problems or pain. With this in mind, it is important to provide empathy and compassion whenever possible. If your friend is sharing this part of their experience with you, its means they trust you. Try to steer clear from giving advice at first. Instead, focus on actively listening to their thoughts, feelings, and concerns without judgment.
Examples and Recommendations:
- Validate your friend’s experience by saying something like: “I know how hard this is for you. I’m so sorry you’re going through this”. You can learn more about validation here.
- Provide them with ways you can help rather than have them generate these ideas. You could do this by offering to bring them a healthy meal, helping them clean their place, or making plans to come over to spend time together.
2. Ask Questions
Once you better understand how your friend feels, ask questions about their safety. In most cases, someone who is suicidal won’t communicate this to you directly. If your intuition is telling you that something feels off or your friend is skirting around the topic of suicide without expressing it overtly, you’ll need to ask some uncomfortable questions.
- Are you thinking about killing yourself?
- Do you think your friends and family would be better off if you weren’t around anymore?
- Do you have the plan to kill yourself?
- If you have a plan, do you have what you need to carry out this plan?
3. Offer Help and Encouragement
to Help Keep your Friend Safe
If your friend is clear that they do not have the plan to kill themselves, you can take time to review some options with them.
Recommended Next Steps:
- Offer to help them get connected to a therapist.
- If your friend already has a therapist, encourage the friend to share this information with the therapist.
- Check in regularly to see how they are and ensure their symptoms have not worsened.
4. Remind Yourself that Safety Should be a Priority Over Hurt Feelings
If your friend told you they plan to take their life and intend to do so, it’s time to take action. Don’t wait. If you are worried about that friend’s safety or are unsure what your friend may do between phone calls or when you are not around, they need a higher level of support.
Your friend may have asked you to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret, and you may feel worried about how your friend may react if you try to get them help. However, if your friend is seriously considering taking their life, it’s essential to understand you cannot help your friend alone. Your friend’s life is more important than any promises you make or a possible argument you may want to avoid.
- If your friend is willing to, take them to the emergency room and wait until a healthcare provider can see them. If your friend is unwilling to do this, you should call 9-1-1 or 9-8-8 on their behalf.
- If you are under the age of 18, tell an adult that you trust. That adult could be a parent, teacher, counselor, doctor, or family friend.
5. Take Care of Yourself
Supporting a friend who is very depressed, hopeless, suicidal, or contemplating ending their own life is extremely difficult. It can bring up discomfort and self-doubt. You may often wonder if you are doing the right thing. Many people feel overwhelmed, angry, or even frustrated when trying to help others through difficult times. You must take time to address your own needs.
In our next post, we’ll explore healthy ways to engage in self-care and set boundaries with loved ones considering suicide.
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