- Talking about suicide isn’t always easy; however, it’s important we do have this conversation so we can help those around us to the best of our ability.
- If your friend appears to be suicidal there are things you should and shouldn’t do or say.
- You should provide them with steadfast support, play an active role in the conversation about their suicidal thoughts (by asking questions), and know when it’s time to tell someone about your friend, such as a therapist.
- You should not use statements that will undermine their feelings such as, “Your life isn’t all that bad,” or statements that will make them feel shameful like, “Everybody’s got their problems.”
If you or a friend is suicidal, there are resources out there: call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Suicide isn’t an easy topic to think about, let alone discuss—especially with an individual you suspect is suicidal. But 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 Should I Do?
The following are three major keys to doing so: providing steadfast support, asking the right questions, and knowing when it’s time to speak up.
Providing Steadfast Support
First and foremost, you need to serve as that steadfast support system. If your friend is indeed suicidal, that means they’re hurting immensely—and they likely want to get these feelings out into the open. “If they are suicidal, even passively, listen to them. More than likely, they want to be heard and get things off their chest,” Patrick Schultz, Licensed Professional Counselor, explains.
Furthermore, your friend needs your empathy and compassion now more than ever. “It is important to give lots of empathy to help them feel comfortable sharing, and hold back from trying to fix what they’re going through or giving them any advice. First, just really listen and show your concern by your body language and compassionate statements,” Licensed Psychologist Laura Chackes advises.
Asking the Right Questions
Now, it’s time to take a more active role in the conversation. Sometimes, an individual’s suicidal ideation isn’t so obvious—but if you do have the slightest suspicion that your friend might be suicidal or is thinking about suicide, be direct and ask them about it. Here are a few questions Carrie Krawiec, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, says 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 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 gage the severity of this matter and help you to decide which step you need to take next.
Knowing When It’s Time to Speak Up
Whether or not your friend appears to be an immediate threat to his or herself, it’s likely time to reach out to somebody. The very fact that you’re worried about your friend is reason enough. “If someone you know is openly talking about taking their own life or even showing symptoms of deep depression and hopelessness, it’s time to speak up,” says Dr. Sal, Licensed Clinical Social Worker. “It’s a common myth that those who are suicidal don’t seek help, but in fact, many people reach out in some way, and often that is to friends and family before a mental health professional. Remember, people who are suicidal are in pain, and they just want that pain to go away.”
It is important you treat this situation as an emergency, because, well, 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:
Option 1: Ensure they see a therapist.
If your friend expressed suicidal thoughts in the past, but appears to be doing better, it’s probably best if you simply ensure they talk to a therapist. Similarly, if your friend is majorly depressed, but doesn’t appear to have suicidal thoughts at this time, you should encourage them to make an appointment. “Encourage them to call their therapist if they have one—even offer to help them make that call. Ensure that they get an appointment set up as soon as possible,” Schultz advises. “And if they don’t have a therapist, find a crisis line that they can call to talk to someone if the thoughts strengthen or get too intense.”
Option 2: Seek immediate help.
If, on the other hand, “you feel unsure whether the person’s immediate safety is at risk, and you are unable to come up with a solid safety plan with them, your best bet is to get them to a hospital to be seen immediately,” Chackes says. “This doesn’t mean they will have to stay at the hospital, but if they don’t have an established therapist or psychiatrist, one can be seen right away at a hospital to get an evaluation. If the person refuses to get help and you think they are at immediate risk, call 911 and have an ambulance take them to the hospital.
If you are a child or teenager, tell an adult (parent, teacher, school counselor, therapist, doctor, church leader, family friend, etc.) about your concern to assist you in making the best decision. 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 Should I Not Do?
Even after reading the above tips, 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 only harm your friend and the situation:
- “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.” Everything will blow over.” This statement also undermines their feelings. If your friend is suffering with suicidal thoughts or feelings, they don’t feel like they have a lot to live for—even if you know that they do.
- “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.
Do you know someone who has suicidal thoughts, feelings, or tendencies? Tell someone you trust or set up an appointment with a mental health professional now. Have you been experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings yourself? Get off this site and call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 right now. Someone is there to answer your call 24 hours a day. You can find a list of other helpful resources here.