How To Help When A Friend Becomes Suicidal
Photo via Pixabay by Maya_7966
Finding out that a friend or loved one has had suicidal thoughts can often be overwhelming and scary, and many people aren’t sure how to help…or even if they can. However, there are several ways you can help a friend who is suffering from feelings of depression or dark thoughts, and it’s important to speak up as soon as you know there’s a problem.
Most people who are having suicidal thoughts don’t talk about it openly; sometimes it’s because they are afraid of being labeled as “crazy”, and sometimes they just don’t think anyone understands what they’re going through. It’s important to keep in mind that many people who are thinking about suicide don’t necessarily want to die, they just can’t think of any other way to end their pain. If they do open up to you, don’t use words such as “selfish” or make them feel guilty. It’s important to remember that their feelings are coming from a place you might not understand, and that they aren’t thinking about how their death might affect their friends or family. Sometimes, a suicidal person believes everyone would be better off without them.
Instead of using accusatory words, let them know you’re sorry they have been in so much pain and that you want to help. Ask what you can do, but listen as well. Letting them know you’re taking their feelings seriously is a big step in helping them recover.
Some individuals who suffer from suicidal thoughts also suffer from emotional or mood disorders, and if they have been diagnosed, it’s imperative that they stay on their medication. Not keeping a structured schedule with medicine can cause mood swings and can negatively affect emotions that are already unstable. If possible, help them contact their healthcare provider.
Warning signs of depression and suicidal thoughts can vary, but few people know your friend as well as you do. If you notice that they have suddenly strayed from their usual behavior–if they are getting into trouble at school or work, are developing issues with drugs or alcohol, are experiencing big changes in sleeping and eating habits, or are having violent or manic mood swings–talk to them. Let them know that you’ve noticed they are going through something and that you’re there to listen and help. Offer to help them find a counselor or therapist, or even a local group session. If they aren’t comfortable with talking one-on-one, they might fare better with a hotline number. Let them know that you’re there for them and will offer moral support should they need it.
If substance abuse is an issue, it’s important that the sufferer seeks treatment for the problem as well as for their depression or mental disorder. Offer to help them contact a facility or drug counselor so that they can find healthy ways to cope.
Never tell a person who has been having suicidal thoughts that they don’t mean it. Take every threat seriously, because otherwise you’ll come across as dismissive of their feelings. It’s also important to keep personal or religious judgment out of the conversation. You may follow a religion that has very strong opinions on suicide and what happens to a person after they die, but bringing it up in this conversation will likely only strengthen their feeling of isolation or alienation, and it won’t do much to change their views.
It can be overwhelming to try and help someone who is having these thoughts, so if you find that you don’t know the “right” thing to say or feel you have said something to hurt them, try again. Tell them that you didn’t know how to react but you are sorry they’re hurting so badly, and ask how you can help. Knowing that someone cares means a lot to a person who already feels as though they are alone.
Steve Johnson co-created PublicHealthLibrary.org with a fellow pre-med student. The availability of accurate health facts, advice, and general answers is something Steve wants for all people, not just those in the health and medical field. He continues to spread trustworthy information and resources through the website, but also enjoys tennis and adding to his record collection in his spare time.