How to Help a Friend Struggling with Suicidal Thoughts
Note: If you are worried that a friend is in immediate danger of harming thesmelves or someone else, call 911.
Our texters worry about their friends. We see more conversations about how to help a friend than we do grief, bullying, or substance abuse. The majority of these conversations come from friends who are concerned that their friend is dealing with suicide. These concerns can range from hearing their friends talk about suicide to witnessing signs of self-harm. Depending on the severity of the situation, immediate action may even be necessary.
Supportive friends can play a vital role in learning to cope with these thoughts and feelings. It's critical to recognize the warning signs that someone may be thinking about suicide. Some common signs include:
Inability to perform daily tasks, such as bathing, brushing teeth, brushing hair, or changing clothes.
Rapid mood swings, including increased energy level, inability to stay still, pacing, withdrawing from social situations, sudden happiness or calm after a period of depression.
Increased agitation verbal threats, violent, out-of-control behavior, destruction of property.
Abusive behavior towards self and others, including substance use or self-harm.
Isolation from school, work, family, friends.
Feelings of hopelessness, discussing how they have no reason to live or that it is too hard to keep on living
Increased focus on death or dying
Friends are in the best position to recognize these signs, as there is less stigma opening up to a friend than their may be with family. Here's some tips on how to start the conversation:
Lend An Ear
The conversation doesn’t have to be formal or unnatural. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests starting with observations. For example, “I’ve noticed lately that you [haven’t been sleeping, aren’t interested in soccer anymore, which you used to love, are posting a lot of sad song lyrics online, etc.] …”. From there, it’s important to provide support and reassurance. You can respond with, “I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.” Good listening techniques like staying calm and asking how you can support them may help de-escalate a crisis situation.
If you are worried that a friend is thinking about suicide, ask them about it. It is not suggestive to ask someone if they are thinking about suicide. By being upfront about your concern, you erase the stigma that often comes with talking about suicide. It also can help your friend feel more comfortable opening up, because they know you are ready and willing to hear about what they are struggling with.
Offer Support, Not Advice
If your friend doesn’t feel completely comfortable talking to you, offer them alternative options, like Crisis Text Line. Let your friend know that they can text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime, about any type of crisis. From there, your friend will receive support from a trained Crisis Counselor.
If that sounds too overwhelming, help your friend with other tasks, such as helping them clean their room or scheduling that doctor's appointment that has seemed too difficult to do. Sometimes, just knowing that someone is there for you can make a world of difference.
Check in With Yourself
Conversations about suicide can be overwhelming. It is important that you check in with yourself and make sure you feel ready to engage in this conversation. Practice self-care following one of these conversations. If you need additional support, text SEIZE to 741741 to talk with a Crisis Counselor. You can't pour from an empty cup.
It can be scary to talk to a friend about suicide. But, with an open ear and empathetic listening, you can create a safe space with which to talk to about any type of issue that a friend might be struggling with.
Want more tips on how to talk to friends about suicide? Check out Seize the Awkward for icebreakers and ideas on how to make these conversations accessible.