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. Hearing this might make you feel overwhelmed or worried, especially if your friend is very upset or angry, but there are steps you can take to help.
It’s important to listen for these warning signs, or “invitations”, so you can catch them early and get your friend the help they need. Thinking of warning signs as invitations helps you look at your friends 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 connection through the behaviors they perform and the words that they speak.
What are the warning signs?
- Threatening to cause harm to oneself
- Looking or referring to ways to kill oneself
- 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 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 does talk to you about how they are feeling, it might help to:
- Acknowledge that they are feeling down and that things seem hard, while at the same time remaining positive and encouraging (don’t invalidate their experience through your encouragement, though)
- Be willing to listen and accept whatever they say without being judgmental
- You shouldn’t debate suicide with your friend and you shouldn’t laugh or not take what they are saying seriously
Choose what to say. Timing can be an important part of talking with someone about sensitive stuff. And sometimes, you might not know what to say. If you’re not sure 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 don’t act shocked by what they say.
Ask the question. Always take it seriously when someone says they want to kill themselves or is dancing around the topic. 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. Ask them directly if they are thinking of killing themselves. By asking the question outright, you open the conversation to talk about it. Sometimes it can be hard to ask (and hard to hear), but it’s better to ask if they’re suicidal than letting it go unasked and something terrible happening.
Take action. Once you know they’re feeling suicidal, talk to them about why they’re feeling this way. During the conversation, listen to them without judgement. 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.
While they tell their story, listen for statements that might reveal why they would want to continue living. They may just need help and support having a difficult conversation with a family member. Perhaps as they talk about their experience, the 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.
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 it’s better that your friend has a chance at getting help than losing their life. It is important to tell someone who can help you and your friend stay safe.
Encourage your friend 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 someone in person, you can also suggest they call Lines for Life’s Suicide LifeLine at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or youth helpline YouthLine at 1-877-968-8491. YouthLine also offers a textline by texting teen2teen to 839863 or via an online chat.
In some cases, making the phone call for them while they sit with you can be a huge relief. It may have been hard to share all of that with you, to share it all over again may be asking too much. Offer to call for them and relate what’s going on to the person on the other end of the lifeline. It may be awkward, but it can take the weight off of your friends shoulders and help them feel supported by you.
Remember that it is important to have a counselor or other mental health professional make an assessment of 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 people have been trained to help your friend deal with their emotions.
If your friend refuses to get help. You might offer to go with your friend when they talk to someone about how they are feeling. However, if they will not go for help, you should go to talk to a family member, counselor or anyone else you trust. 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 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 for more information.
Is your friend in immediate danger?
If you think your friend is in immediate danger, call 911 and if you are with your friend, stay with your friend until help arrives. If you are on the phone with them, stay on the phone and see if you can get word to someone else who can call 911. If you are online with someone that you only know from online interactions, it’s still a good idea to alert 911 and the Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). 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. It is important that you 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 may be a good way to tend to your own 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.