When a Friend Is Feeling Suicidal

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One of the most frightening experiences a person can have is hearing a friend or loved one say they want to die. Even to hear a complete stranger say these words is hard. How can you cope and try to maintain your own sanity?

Here are some helpful tips from various suicide prevention resources.

Show Support

There are a number of different things you can do to be a supportive and empathetic friend. The key is to avoid being judgmental or dismissive of what your friend is feeling.

Speak From the Heart

There are no right or wrong things you can say if you are speaking out of love and concern. Just be yourself. Show that you care by talking to them, holding them while they cry, or whatever else is necessary. Research has show that acknowledging what people are experiencing may help them process their thoughts and may reduce their suicidal thoughts.


A suicidal person usually is carrying around some burden that they feel they just can't handle anymore. Offer to listen as they vent their feelings of despair, anger, and loneliness. Sometimes this is enough to lighten the load just enough for them to carry on.

Remain Open

Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm, accepting. The person will pick up on your attitude and begin to mirror this.

Confirm Suicidal Thoughts

Don't be afraid to ask, "Are you having thoughts of suicide?" Studies show that asking at-risk friends and family members if they are thinking about suicide does not increase suicidal thoughts. You are not putting ideas in their head. This will give you some valuable information about how to proceed in helping him.

Get the Facts

If the answer is yes, ask these three questions:

  • Have you thought about how you would do it?
  • Do you have what you need to carry out your plan?
  • Do you know when you will do it?

Fortunately, the majority of people will either say that they have no definite plans or that they don't have the nerve to do it themselves. Although this is still a serious situation, you know that they are probably not in imminent danger of hurting themselves. Take their words as a plea for help and proceed with helping them to get the assistance that they need. Urge them to seek professional help as soon as possible.

If the answers they give you lead you to believe they are in immediate danger, do not hesitate to contact the authorities. They may tell you that you are betraying them or making them angry. You may feel like you will lose their friendship if you take action. Just remember that you may permanently lose their friendship if you don't. When they're well again, they will thank you.

Keep Them Talking

This will allow them to reduce the emotional burden they are carrying and give them time to calm down. The longer you keep them talking, the more you can take the edge off their desperation. As their momentum winds down, it's harder for them to act on their feelings.

Avoid Trying to Solve the Problem

Try not to offer quick solutions or belittle the person's feelings. How big they perceive the problem to be and how much they are hurting over it is what counts. Rational arguments do little good to persuade a person when they are in this state of mind. Instead, offer your empathy and compassion for what they are feeling without making any judgments about whether they should feel that way.

When to Seek Help

If the person has already started a suicide attempt, call for help immediately. If they are still conscious, get what information you can about what substances they have ingested, how long ago they took them, how much they took, when they last ate, and their general state of health.

Call 911, poison control, or an appropriate emergency contact number in your area and explain the situation. Keep calm and follow any steps they may give you to assist your friend.

If you are in a situation, such as an online friendship, where you know very little about the person, encourage them to call 911 on their own or to call a suicide hotline in their area. This is your best option, because a local agency, such as 911 or a hotline, may be able to trace the call and get assistance to them. If they refuse to call, do your best to learn whatever personal information you can about the person. Don't hesitate to ask them for their address, phone number, and other information to help dispatch an emergency crew to their home. 

Take Care of Yourself

Dealing with a suicide threat is very stressful. Seek assistance to decompress afterward. Talk to a trusted friend, your pastor, etc., about what you've been through and how you feel about it.

If All Attempts Fail

Don't blame yourself. You did all that you could. This person ultimately made their own choices, for good or bad. If you were very close to the person, it may be wise to seek out grief counseling and suicide survivor support groups.

For more information on suicide prevention and self-help for suicide survivors, take a look below:

Suicide Prevention Organizations

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Locate support groups for friends and families of suicide victims.

National Suicide Prevention Directory 
Contact information for suicide prevention agencies. Listed by state.

Suicide Awareness\Voices of Education
Includes an FAQ, general information on suicide, some common statistics, symptoms of depression, a book list and much more. Excellent suicide prevention resources.

Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network (SPAN)
Suicide prevention and awareness organization homepage.

A program aimed at suicide prevention and awareness.

Coping With Suicidal Feelings

Have-a-Heart's Depression Page
Advice for those coping with suicidal and manic feelings from someone who's been there.

A charity which provides confidential emotional support to any person, irrespective of race, creed, age or status, who is suicidal or despairing. Provided 24 hours a day.

Support for Suicide Survivors

When the Worst Has Happened
Written for those left behind when a loved one commits suicide.

You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 at any time. This service will connect you with a trained crisis counselor who can offer support and help you find the support you need for yourself or a loved one.

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Article Sources

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