If you’re reading this, than you may have a friend who has said that they’re feeling suicidal, or who you think might be feeling this way. This can be a very scary place to find yourself. When we think our friends are in danger, it can bring up a lot of very strong feelings, including:
And others. It’s very noble that you care enough about your friend to visit a website like this one, looking for information. At the same time you should also remember that no one person is responsible for another. No matter what happens, you have no control over what they do.
The first thing to recognize is whether your friend is actually suicidal. When people say things like “I don’t think I can go on”, “I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up” and “There’s no way out”, this is a clue that they are feeling overwhelmed and are considering suicide.
Asking someone if they’re feeling suicidal does not put the thought in their head. What asking someone about suicide does is allow them the opportunity to talk openly about what they’re experiencing.
A sample conversation between Amy and Sarah.
Amy: Since Jeff broke up with him I don’t know what to do. I just wish I could make it all go away, you know?
Sarah: “Sounds like it’s really weighing on you, Amy. Sometimes when people say they want to make it all go away, they mean they’re thinking about suicide. Is suicide something you’ve been thinking about?”
In this exchange, you can see the key aspects of talking to someone who is feeling suicidal:
Empathy – By saying “Sounds like it’s really weighing on you”, Sarah has identified Amy is not feeling well and has begun to open the dialogue.
Validation – By saying “Sometimes when people say they want to make it all go away, they mean they’re talking about suicide.” This tells Amy that her problems aren’t unique to herself, and it uses the language she used which helps her feel heard.
Asking directly about suicide – When Sarah says “Is suicide something you’ve been thinking about?” she directly uses the word suicide. This acknowledges that suicide isn’t anything to be afraid of.
At this point, you’ve opened up the dialogue and you’ve established that your friend knows you’re there for them. Telling someone you’re feeling like killing yourself is one of the hardest things a person can tell another, and suicidal individuals often fear that they’ll be judged, dismissed or not taken seriously.
Remember: talking about suicide is never a “cry for attention.” All suicidal threats should be taken seriously. Asking your friend for details on their suicide plan (if they have one), how long they’ve been feeling this way, if they have ever attempted suicide before (or if they’ve ever lost anyone in their life to suicide), and who in their life they feel like they can talk to are all important questions.
Once you have this information, it’s important to connect your friend with resources to help them. This can include counsellors/therapists, friends and family who they can talk to for emotional support, crisis lines and other supports.
You may even find it helpful to create a “crisis plan” with your friend; a crisis plan is simply a list of things that they’ll do if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Items on the crisis plan can include “self-care”, things we do to feel better (like talking a bath, listening to music or baking cookies) and actions we can take to directly protect ourselves (pouring alcohol down the drain if your friend drinks when they’re feeling bad or calling you or a crisis line if they don’t think they can keep themselves safe in the moment.
Sometimes you can feel overwhelmed yourself, and it’s important to keep your own self-care in mind. Even professional crisis workers who talk to suicidal people all the time can experience negative emotions like guilt, anger and powerlessness when they’re talking to someone who wants to take their own life.
Calling a distress or crisis line yourself may prove helpful, because it allows you the opportunity to vent in a safe, confidential space. Additionally, they may be able to share with you advice on working with your suicidal friend. If the helpline you’re working with is American Association of Suicidology (AAS) accredited, they may also be able to do what’s called a “third-party suicide intervention”, where you give them your friend’s information and they call them up. This can take some of the pressure off of you, but at the same time it means your friend will know that you’ve told someone they’re feeling suicidal.
Should I “tell” on my friend?
As we said earlier, knowing your friend is feeling suicidal can bring up a lot of strong emotions in you, not to mention the strong emotions brewing in your friend. Sometimes they may ask you not to tell anyone what they’re feeling, that you would be breaching your trust if you tell. You may be wondering whether you should contact someone.
The answer to this is very simple: if you’re not comfortable or you’re worried, you have to tell someone. Your friend deserves to get the help that you need, and although they may believe that you keep their suicidal thoughts secret is the best option, in reality it will only put them in more danger. Most often, when a friend finds out you’ve told someone else of their thoughts, they’ll be relieved that they’ll be getting the help they need.
Besides, would you rather have your friend alive, having told their secret – or dead, having kept it?