If you know someone who has thought about ending their life by suicide, you realize how hard it is to know what to say or do about it. Do you need support to help a suicidal friend?
Are they just joking? Do they just want attention? Or is something serious going on? The truth is, most suicidal individuals give definite warnings of their suicidal intentions, but people around them are either unaware of the significance of those warnings or don't know how to respond to them.
Kendra said she has thought about killing herself many times: If I don't have anyone to talk to once in a while, to get my feelings out, I get really sad, because I feel like no one cares about me. I think about what would people think if I was dead, or would they be happier without me? I'd hate to think Kendra, or someone like her would kill herself because she feels no one ever showed her they cared. Perhaps you have a friend like Kendra who has said some things to you that sounded like she or he might be deeply depressed, or even suicidal. It's very important to recognize those signs.
Most suicidal individuals give definite signs of suicidal thoughts and intentions.
Make sure you take any threat of suicide seriously.
What Are Classified As Suicidal Thoughts?
When someone you know is struggling, it’s really hard to know how to help. A good place to start is simply educating yourself about the signs and symptoms of certain mental health issues and knowing what resources are available to someone in need.
Here are some of the signs to watch for. A suicidal friend may:
- Have mood swings.
- Talk more frequently about death or says things like “You’d be better off without me”.
- Withdraw from friends and family, or isolates more than usual.
- Engage in risky behaviors like unsafe sex, substance abuse, and self-harm.
- Experience drastic changes in behavior.
- Lose interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
- Give away prized possessions.
- Lose interest in their appearance.
- Express a deep sense of hopelessness.
- Project a deep sense of serenity, or being at peace.
- Complain about being a bad person or feeling rotten inside.
- Have recently experienced a traumatic event like a breakup, death of a loved one, terminal illness diagnosis, etc.
If you have noticed things like this, or if someone has confessed to you that they are feeling depressed, here are some examples of what a suicidal person might say:
- “I want to die.” or “I wish I were dead.”
- "If I killed myself, then people would be sorry."
- “I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up.”
- “I wanted to say goodbye.”
- “When I’m gone, you can have my ___.”
- “If I was ever going to commit suicide, I’d do it by ____.”
- "If I wasn’t around, no one would miss me."
- "All of my problems will end soon."
- "I won’t be a problem for you much longer."
- "Nothing matters; it’s no use."
- "I won’t see you again."
If any of this sounds familiar, it may be time to encourage them to seek help. If they need support, you can help them reach out to a Hope Coach or call 988. If you suspect they’re in immediate danger, though, call 911.
It’s important to remember, too, that some people who attempt suicide display absolutely no signs or symptoms beforehand. You simply never know how a person is really feeling, so it’s a good idea to get in the habit of checking in on your friends and family often, not just when you think something might be wrong.
So, what can you do to help someone who has suicidal thoughts?
- Get involved. Be available. Show interest and support.
- Don't be afraid to talk to them about suicide. Talking about it does not make it worse, but better. Be direct. Talk openly and freely about suicide.
- Be willing to listen without judgment. Ask, "Tell me what you are feeling?"
- Assure them that you understand that what they are feeling is very real to them, but that they are NOT alone.
- Let them know you aren't going to abandon them.
- If they haven't brought it up, but you are concerned they are thinking about suicide, ask them directly. Here's an example of how, "Sometimes when people feel the way you are describing they have thoughts of suicide. Is this true with you?" If they are, this gives them permission to talk about it and actually brings relief because someone else brought it up. If they aren't, they will rush to assure you they aren't.
- Ask if they have a plan. If so, take them seriously and move quickly to get help. Remove anything that would help them carry out their plan guns, drugs, alcohol, knives, etc.
- Offer hope that alternatives are available.
- Provide them with a list of suicide prevention resources.
- Help them fill out the Suicide Safety Plan.
Things to Avoid Saying/Doing to Someone Talking About Suicide.
- "I think you're just bluffing. I don't believe you."
- Don't act shocked.
- "You're not serious. You're just looking for attention?"
- It is not helpful to just rattle off a list of reasons to live without first listening to what they are feeling.
- Don't dismiss what they are feeling. It is very real to them.
- Don't be sworn to secrecy. Get support.
Nicole said her sister saved her when she felt suicidal: Because of her, I am still here. If you know anyone who you may think have depression or suicidal thoughts, ask him or her if everything is okay and comfort them.
The Most Important Thing You Can Do
It is not so much about WHAT you say. The most important thing you can do is reassure your friend that you love them.
That's what happened when Heather was feeling suicidal: I told [my friend] what was going on and he just kept telling me that he cared that it wasn't the right thing for me, that I had so much more to do with my life. But the thing that helped me was that he said he loved me. I had felt so alone, and no one had told me that in a while not even my mom. Remind your friend that no matter how awful their problems seem, they can be worked out, and you are willing to help.
Please make sure you take any threat seriously from a suicidal friend. Of all the people who have died by suicide, 80% have given some kind of warning. A person who you feel is at high risk for suicide should never be left alone, if even for a moment. Keep talking to that person and stay with him or her. Don’t feel like you have to handle this on your own.
If you or a friend need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, for free confidential, 24/7 help. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world. For additional help, please visit the suicide prevention resource page.
Most times a suicidal person needs someone close to them to be a voice of hope. Amberly agrees: Sometimes all you need is to be loved and know someone is there to catch you when you are about to fall. You could very well be that voice of hope to someone you love. Your efforts might just save someone's life.