If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health, suicide or substance use crisis or emotional distress, reach out 24/7 to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) by dialing or texting 988 or using chat services at suicidepreventionlifeline.org to connect to a trained crisis counselor. You can also get crisis text support via the Crisis Text Line by texting NAMI to 741741.
Suicide isn’t an easy topic to think about, let alone discuss — especially with someone you suspect is suicidal. But it is incredibly important that we do talk about it and get our loved ones the help they need to prevent them from reaching a point of crisis.
Here’s a little bit about what you can do to help them.
Offer Steadfast Support
If your friend is experiencing suicidal ideation, that means they’re hurting immensely — and they likely want to talk about it and feel heard. You can show your support by listening and giving them your empathy and compassion.
After speaking with licensed psychologist, Laura Chackes, she gave some insight on this: “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,”
A few examples of compassionate statements:
“I’m so sorry you’re going through this.” It’s important to validate what your friend is feeling and experiencing. In addition, this statement shows that you care for and empathize with them.
“Can I bring you dinner? Would you like it if I came over?” Instead of asking if there’s anything you can do, think of a couple specific things that you could do to help or support your friend.
“You mean so much to me. I can’t imagine life without you.” Take a moment to let your friend know just how much you love and care for them. You might even remind them of a funny or heartwarming memory. Be sure to do so in a calm, non-aggressive way.
“I know that you’re in pain.” Again, validate how your friend is feeling and reiterate to them that you are there to help however you can.
A few examples of non-compassionate statements you should avoid saying:
“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. 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 they do.
“Everybody’s got their problems.” When someone is suicidal, they feel that they have no other option and telling them this is incredibly invalidating to their pain.
After listening to your friend, it’s then time to take a more active role in the conversation. Sometimes, an individual’s suicidal ideation isn’t 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 you could ask:
- Do you think about hurting yourself?
- Do you think about dying?
- Do you think your friends and family would be better off without you?
If they answer yes to any of these questions, then follow up with these questions:
- Do you have a plan?
- Do you have the means to carry out that plan?
Asking these questions will allow you to better gauge the severity of their symptoms and help you decide which step you need to take next.
Know When It’s Time to Act
If you are having this conversation with a friend, it’s time to reach out to somebody. However, depending on whether your friend is actively suicidal (seriously considering suicide, has a plan or the means to carry out a plan) or experiencing suicidal ideation without any intention of acting on it (passively suicidal) — you need to make sure they are getting the appropriate level of care.
After a conversation with Dr. Sal, a licensed clinical social worker, he explained that, “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.”
Option 1: Ensure they see a therapist.
If your friend is depressed, but not actively suicidal, you should encourage them to see a therapist if they aren’t already. You can help by offering to research and make calls if they are not feeling up to finding a therapist themselves. You should also check in regularly to see how they are and make sure their symptoms have not escalated toward crisis.
Option 2: Seek immediate help.
If they convey that they are actively suicidal, you should get them help immediately. If they have a therapist or psychiatrist, call them to ask if they have a crisis plan in place or what you should do. If they don’t have a therapist, you should take them to the hospital for an evaluation.
If you are a child or teenager, it is essential that you tell a trusted adult (parent, teacher, school counselor, doctor, church leader, family friend, etc.) — even if your friend tells you not to.
As a last piece of advice, be sure to take care of yourself, too. There’s nothing easy about helping a friend who’s in pain.
Taylor Bennett is the Content Development Manager at Thriveworks. She devotes herself to distributing important information about mental health and wellbeing, writing mental health news and self-improvement tips daily. Taylor received her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism, with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book and has published content on Thought Catalog, Odyssey, and The Traveling Parent.