My friend is suicidal: What should I do? What should I not do?


If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, call 988(Suicide & Crisis Lifeline) or go to your nearest emergency room.

Suicide isn’t an easy topic to think about, let alone discuss—especially with an individual you suspect is suicidal. A lot of emotions can be involved, and you certainly don’t want to make this person feel worse.

That said, it is incredibly important that we do discuss the matter and get our loved ones the help that they need. Here’s a little bit about what you should do and shouldn’t do when it comes to helping them.

What Are Classified as Suicidal Thoughts?

Suicidal thoughts, also known as suicidal ideation, consist of a variety of preoccupations and contemplations regarding death and suicide. These thoughts range from considerations of what dying might feel like to concrete plans for taking one’s life. 

Suicidal ideation can also be classified as passive or active. Passive suicidal ideation means that, though someone has thoughts of death or suicide, they are not actively planning to take their life. Active suicidal ideation, however, means that someone has a plan in place detailing how they would end their life.

Thoughts of suicide usually occur when someone feels as though they are unable to cope with overwhelming difficulties they are dealing with in their life. 

If you are unsure if someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, be direct and ask them about it. Here are a few questions you could ask:

  • Do you have thoughts or feelings of hurting or harming yourself?
  • Do you think this world would be better off without you?
  • Do you think about your death?

If they answer yes to any of these questions, then follow up with this question: “Do you have the tools to carry out that plan?” Asking these questions will allow you to better gauge the severity of this matter and help you to decide which steps you need to take next.

What to Do If a Friend Has Suicidal Thoughts

It can feel uncomfortable to be upfront and talk about suicide, a serious and vulnerable topic, but if you or someone close to you is considering suicide, whether actively or passively, talking about it openly is the best way to get everyone the help and support they need

Here are things you can do to help someone struggling with suicidal thoughts:

     1. Provide steadfast support

Play an active role in the conversation about their suicidal thoughts. If your friend is indeed suicidal, that means they’re hurting immensely, and they likely want to get these feelings out into the open. 

Ask them questions; give them a space to show up as they are (not where you want them to be); and meet them with empathy and compassion, not judgment. Lastly, hold back from trying to fix what they’re going through or giving them any advice. Just really listen and show your concern using your body language and compassionate statements.

     2. Know When It’s Time to Speak Up 

Whether or not your friend appears to be an immediate threat to themself, it’s likely time to reach out to somebody. The very fact that you’re worried about your friend is reason enough. It is important you treat this situation as an emergency because it is an emergency—it’s a matter of life and death. 

After having this important conversation with your friend, choose the appropriate intervention method: Ensure they see a therapist or seek immediate help at a hospital or by calling 911. Even if your friend tells you not to tell anyone, if you believe that they may actually harm themselves, it is always best to err on the side of safety. Your friend will thank you later even if they are upset with you at first for telling someone.

What Not to Do If a Friend Has Suicidal Thoughts

Finally, you might be wondering what not to do or say to a potentially suicidal friend. Here are a few things you should avoid saying, as these phrases will likely only harm your friend and the situation:

  • “Everybody’s got their problems.” Chances are, your loved one has already thought about this and attempted to use it to change their suicidal feelings… but failed. When someone is suicidal, they feel that they have no other option. So don’t make them feel more shame by using statements of the like.
  • “Your life isn’t that bad!” It might not seem like your friend has reason to feel so unhappy, but their pain is something nobody else can understand. Know that if they are having thoughts of suicide, they are in more pain than you realize. And avoid this statement as well as similar phrases, as they only pass judgment.
  • “You don’t really want to die…” You may say this out of fear, but stop yourself if you can. If your friend is talking about suicide or showing signs of suicidal behavior, it is to be taken seriously. Do what you can to make them feel comfortable opening up instead, and ask if they’ll let you get them professional help.
  • “You have too much to live for.” This statement also undermines their feelings. If your friend is suffering with suicidal thoughts or feelings, they already believe they don’t have a lot to live for—even if you know that they do.

For the most part, it can be best to avoid giving any advice. When someone is hurting badly enough to consider taking their own life, they often want to be heard, accepted, and loved as they are, and despite one’s best intentions, giving advice can feel judgmental or make them feel like you’re not listening to them. Just be present, listen to what they say, and offer to be a solid resource for them going forward. It can help to ask your friend what they need from you so that you know how best to support them. It can help to ask your friend what they need from you so that you know how best to support them. 

That being said, know your limits. Dealing with suicidal thoughts is hard, but so is so is supporting someone with suicidal ideation. Recognize when you are running out of emotional strength and when you need a break. It’s a good idea to see a therapist so that you have a supportive and nonjudgmental space to go to as a resource during this time. You can’t help or support others if you can’t help or support yourself.

It’s also wise to suggest that they see a mental health professional for their symptoms, since they are trained to offer client-specific support and treatment for suicidal ideation and other mental health issues.

988 and Other Crisis Resources

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is an excellent resource for people struggling with suicidal thoughts or those giving them support. They are the foremost resource for suicide prevention and mental health crisis care. 

When calling 988, you can speak to knowledgeable experts who are trained to deal with crisis situations and other serious mental health issues. They can talk you through what you’re feeling, as well as give you resources to help you once you hang up. The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so you can call at any time.

What Happens If You Call 988?

After calling 988, the caller would be directed to a trained lifeline crisis counselor that will engage with the caller and provide an assessment and intervention. This would include a 3-step safety assessment in the call that includes:

  1. Connection and assessing immediate safety
  2. Collaboration (listen, clarify, plan) 
  3. Offering a follow up call and wrapping up 

When To Call the Suicide Prevention Line

If you or a friend need pressing assistance from a mental health professional, but no one is in immediate danger, call 988. They will be able to deal with any mental health crisis or situation you are experiencing with expert care and support.

However, if someone is in immediate danger or someone is in imminent danger of taking their life, call 911 right away. In these cases, first responders are more equipped to deal with emergency situations in which someone’s health is in danger.

Get immediate help

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, call 988 (Suicide & Crisis Lifeline) or go to your nearest emergency room.

Get immediate help

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, call 988 (Suicide & Crisis Lifeline) or go to your nearest emergency room.

  • Clinical reviewer
  • Writer
  • Update history
Emily Simonian
Emily Simonian, M.A., LMFTHead of Clinical Learning

Emily Simonian is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) who has direct training and experience working with family and relationship issues, as well as working with individuals. She also specializes in treating stress/anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, as well as self-esteem issues and general self-improvement goals.

Picture of woman in front of flowers
Hannah DeWittMental Health Writer

Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

We update our content on a regular basis to ensure it reflects the most up-to-date, relevant, and valuable information. When we make a significant change, we summarize the updates and list the date on which they occurred. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  • Originally published on September 10, 2018

    Author: Taylor Bennett

    Reviewer: Emily Simonian, LMFT

  • Updated on August 18, 2023

    Author: Hannah DeWitt

    Changes: Updated by the Thriveworks editorial team, adding updates regarding what to say and what not to say to a friend with suicidal thoughts and what constitutes suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideation; added information about 988 and other resources for people with suicidal ideation.


The information on this page is not intended to replace assistance, diagnosis, or treatment from a clinical or medical professional. Readers are urged to seek professional help if they are struggling with a mental health condition or another health concern.

If you’re in a crisis, do not use this site. Please call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or use these resources to get immediate help.

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