Has your friend been talking about suicide?
Sometimes people bring up suicide as a way to reach out for help. It can sound very vague, like “I don’t want to be here anymore,” or it can be much more obvious, such as “I want to kill myself.” If your friend tells you they are feeling suicidal, take it seriously. It’s okay if it feels overwhelming or alarming to hear this from your friend; that’s entirely natural. We’re going to walk through steps you can take to help them.
It’s also important to listen for warning signs, or “invitations,” so you can catch them early and get your friend the help they need. Think of warning signs as invitations. They can help you look at your friend’s suicidal ideation with the lens that your friend is inviting you or someone to talk to them about the pain they’re feeling. They are inviting us to connect through their behaviors and their words.
What are the warning signs?
- Threatening to cause harm to oneself
- Referring to ways they can kill themselves
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Feelings of hopelessness or uncontrolled anger
- Acting reckless seemingly without thinking
- Increasing alcohol or drug use
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and society
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
- Giving away possessions
- Changes in their sleeping pattern—too much or too little
- Experiencing dramatic mood changes
- Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life or value to others
Suggestions for Helping Your Friend
Offer Your Support
It can be scary when you realize your friend needs help. Let your friend know that you want to help them. Just knowing that somebody cares can be reassuring since your friend may be seeking comfort.
If your friend talks to you about how they are feeling, it might help to:
- Reassure Them -
Acknowledge their feelings while also remaining positive and encouraging. Try not to invalidate their experience through your encouragement, though. Saying “you have such a nice family, though” or “you just need to get out of this funk” can actually be more harmful than good. If you don’t know what it sounds like to validate someone while being positive, here are some things you could try saying to them:
- “It’s going to be okay.”
- “I believe in you, and I’m here if you need anything.”
- “I hear you. It sounds like things are really hard for you right now. I know you can get through this, though. You always do.”
Try your best not to make false promises. If you tell them that you’ll always be there, and then they need you at 3 am while you’re asleep, you could end up letting them down and possibly overextending your ability to support them. Know your limits for giving support.
- Accept Their Truth -
Remember, this isn’t about us. It’s not about how we see this situation; it’s about how your friend is feeling in this moment about their situation. Try your best to put yourself in their shoes, be willing to listen, and accept whatever they say without being judgmental.
- Take It Seriously -
Now isn’t the time to debate suicide and if it’s right or wrong to do. It’s also inappropriate to laugh it off or think it’s just a joke. Remember, it probably took a lot of courage for your friend to talk to you about this. If they haven’t said anything about it yet, and you’ve just noticed the warning signs, definitely take it seriously so they can get the help they deserve.
- Ask How You Can Support Them -
Often time, people already know what they need. Ask them directly and it’s likely they’ll tell you.
Choose What to Say
Timing can be an essential part of talking with someone about sensitive stuff. Sometimes, you might not know what to say, and that’s okay. If you’re unsure how to start the conversation, you might try saying “I’m worried about you” or “I’m here for you.” Whatever you decide, be direct and try not to act shocked by what they say.
Ask The Question
“Do you want to kill yourself?” “Are you saying you want to take your own life?”
Always take it seriously when someone says they want to kill themselves or often bring up suicide and death. If your friend hasn’t been acting the same, talks about death and dying a lot, brings up suicide, or displays any of the other warning signs, be direct with them.
It’s okay to ask them directly if they want to kill themselves. You open the conversation to talk about it by asking the question outright. Sometimes it can be hard to ask (and hard to hear their response), but it’s better to ask if your friend is suicidal than letting it go unasked and something terrible happening.
Dive a Little Deeper
Once you know they’re feeling suicidal, talk to them about why they’re feeling this way. During the conversation, listen to them without judgment. Ask them to share their experience with you and be thankful when they do. It can be hard to open up about those deep feelings, so make sure your friend knows how much you appreciate their trust in you.
Practice Active Listening & Help Find Other Solutions
While they tell their story, listen for statements that might reveal why they want to continue living. Perhaps as they talk about their experience, both of you can brainstorm solutions to the problem. If you find a glimpse of uncertainty or hope in their words, ask if they’ll let you help keep them safe, even if it’s only for right now. If you know how they intend to kill themselves, ask them how you can remove those avenues so they can stay safe.
This doesn’t have to be a forever plan to stay safe. It can be a safety plan for right now and right now only. The thought of never having the option to end their lives is terrifying for some people to accept. If you can get them to agree to be safe for now, that will give you time to do the next couple of steps.
Don't Keep It a Secret
A secret can be dangerous if it hurts your friend. It may feel like you’re breaking trust by telling someone, but your friend should have a chance at getting help rather than losing their life. It is important to tell someone who can help your friend stay safe. This person might be a parent, teacher, or other trusted adult.
Encourage Them To Seek Help
It’s important that your friend actively gets help from a counselor, psychologist, teacher, or doctor. If they don’t feel comfortable talking to one of those trusted adults, you can also suggest they call a helpline. You can use some of the helplines below or you can visit our Crisis Support Resources for more helplines.
- Connect Them With a Helpline -
The Crisis Text Line offers free, confidential crisis support via text 24/7. Whether you’re feeling suicidal or having a hard time managing strong emotions, a trained volunteer will connect with you and provide support.
- Text HOME to 741741 (24/7/365)
The Trans Lifeline is a suicide hotline for trans-identified individuals. The calls are taken by other trans people and can be used whether or not you’re in crisis.
Available 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. PST. Volunteers may be available during off hours.
The Trevor Project is dedicated to providing crisis counseling for those in the LGBTQ+ community that are considering suicide. All lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people are welcome to call.
- Call 1-866-488-7386 (24/7/365)
Text START to 678678 *(24/7/365)
- Standard text messaging rates apply
Chat online here
Designed to work best on a computer
Wait time can vary—use the Lifeline or text option if urgent
- Support Them During the Call -
In some cases, making the phone call for them while they sit with you can be a huge relief. Being vulnerable can take a lot of energy out of a person, especially if they just shared all of this with you. Offer to call a helpline for them and share with the crisis counselor what is going on. It may be awkward, but it can take the weight off your friend’s shoulders and help them feel supported by you.
Remember that it is crucial to have a counselor, doctor, or other mental health professional assess how serious your friend is about ending their life. Although it might seem hard or scary to reach out to someone you both don’t know very well, these trained professionals can help your friend deal with their emotions.
If Your Friend Refuses To Get Help
If they do not get help, you should talk to a family member, counselor, or other trusted adult. It is important to take the threat seriously until a mental health professional has had a chance to talk to your friend to see how they are feeling. You can offer to go with them if that makes it easier.
Telling them that you’re going to let an adult know could help them feel like you aren’t going behind their back; however, they may still be upset. Remember, it’s better they get help than not.
You can also get help from agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention like the Lifeline. Don’t feel nervous to call Lines for Life because you are worried about your friend. Check out our article on What to Expect When Calling a Helpline if the thought of calling a helpline makes you nervous.
Is your friend in immediate danger?
If you think your friend is in immediate danger, call 911. If a crisis happens and you’re:
- In-person: Stay with your friend until help arrives.
- On the phone: Stay on the phone with them and see if you can get word to someone else who can call 911.
- Talking online with them (and only know from online): It’s still a good idea to alert 911 and the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), so they can help you through the situation with the person online.
Visit our Crisis Helpline Directory for more resources.
Don’t forget to look after yourself, too!
When you’re worried about a friend, you might feel stressed or overwhelmed and forget to look after yourself. Do your best to take care of how you are feeling. Speak to someone you trust, such as a family member, friend, or counselor. Expressing yourself or finding a coping strategy you can use to decompress is an excellent way to tend to your mental health.
It’s also important to remember that even though you can offer support, you are not responsible for the actions or behaviors of your friend.
Acknowledgments: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com
About Youth Era
Youth Era is a nonprofit that works with teens and young adults to become happy, successful, and contributing adults members of their communities. The organization creates solutions for communities across the country that look beyond short-term assistance for the few and toward sustainable support for the many. To learn more, visit www.youthera.org.