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Help my friend is feeling suicidal

Practical things you can do to support a friend who is feeling suicidal

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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If you are concerned about someone, trust your instinct and encourage them to talk to you. Don’t hesitate to talk to them and tell them your concerns. Here are some ways you can start the conversation. ‘You haven’t seemed yourself lately- is everything alright?’, ‘I’ve noticed that you’ve been spending a lot of time on your own. Are you ok?’ Talking about suicide can be difficult for both them and you, and don't be afraid to acknowledge this difficulty with them.

Below are just some of the signs that may mean that someone is feeling suicidal. If you or someone you know shows any of the following signs, get help immediately.

In this article?

Risk factors that someone is suicidal

  • Someone who has attempted suicide in the past
  • Someone who self harms (to deliberately hurt or injure yourself) or has self harmed in the past
  • Talking about suicide and death, making final arrangements or feeling that death is the only option (more than two-thirds of people who die by suicide have told someone that they are thinking of suicide. LISTEN and ACT if someone talks to you about suicide)
  • Talking about going away or getting away from problems.
  • A feeling of hopelessness or of no escape from depression
  • A feeling of isolation or becoming isolated
  • Giving away personal possessions, saying goodbye verbally or in texts
  • Talking as if they don’t have a future
  • Self-destructive behaviour like abusing alcohol or drugs, driving too fast or taking big safety risks
  • A sudden calmness after serious depression. This might mean that the person has decided to attempt suicide and feels ready to do it.

Starting a conversation

Thoughts of suicide are extremely isolating so the person may feel extremely alone and afraid to tell anyone. Talking about suicide does not make it any more likely to happen, and you will not put the idea into their head just by asking them. Asking someone if they are feeling suicidal can often be a huge relief for them as it can often feel like a weight has been lifted from them. Simply by asking about suicide you are showing that person that you care about them and want to help.

When asking it is important to:

  • Stay as calm as possible and support your friend without judging them. Let them know that you are ready to help them or keep them company if they need it. Don't get angry with them if they aren't ready to talk. Use phrases like "I'm worried about you and I want to help" or "Whatever's bothering you, we'll go through this together."
  • Ask the person clearly and confidently if they are thinking about suicide. Some ways you might start this conversation include asking openingly: ‘Are you having thoughts of suicide’, ‘Are you thinking about taking your own life’, or ‘Are you thinking of killing yourself’?
  • Try to keep the questions as open as possible so they are easily answered. Read our article on conversation tips here.
  • Listen carefully in a non-judgmental way to what they say. Give them the space to speak without you interrupting them.

Listen carefully to what they say. You do not have to have all the answers but listening in a non-judgmental way shows that you care and want to help. Reassure them that help is available and that you will go with them to a GP or emergency services if needs be. When someone tells you that they thinking of killing themselves there are a few simple practical things that you can do to help them.

Helping someone who is suicidal

Before you read this, please ensure you have read the earlier points in the article too.

  • Ask them if they have planned how they would hurt themselves, and remove access to any means of suicide or self harm. If they have a plan this indicates that the person is a very high risk of suicide and you should get help immediately.
  • Ask them if they are attending a mental health service, and ask for the contact details of their team.
  • Contact emergency services immediately by ringing 999 or 112, or accompany them to the nearest A&E department.
  • Stay with them until they receive help. While you are waiting on emergency services to respond, stay with them until they are tended to.

Your friend may be in such a state of distress that they may not see the point in getting help or may be scared of what that will mean. In this case your priority is to ensure the safety of your friend even if it means going against their wishes (by phoning their GP or 999 or 112). This can be a hard thing to do because you may worry that this could affect your relationship. However, chances are that down the road your friend will thank you for it.

What if they say they don't think about suicide?

If they say no, that they do not have thoughts of suicide, then they know that you are a safe person they can come to talk to in the future. If they have already taken steps to end their own life it’s important to call 999 or 112 immediately to get them medical attention, or take them straight to A&E.

Your friend may be experiencing a deep depression, or engaging in self harm. Read more on depression and self harm.

What can I do if someone doesn’t want my help?

It can be difficult if you feel that someone you care about is in a bad place but won’t reach out for help or take the help that you have offered them. This can be frustrating for all involved but it’s important that you remember that there are limits to the help that you can offer. Remember that there is only so much you can do, and try not to beat yourself up about it. Be patient: it may take a while for them to open up and feel comfortable talking with you. Tell them that you are there for them when they are ready to seek help. If you are worried about the person, it may be time to contact a family member and tell them your concerns.

How can I look after myself?

  • Providing support to someone else can be draining and exhausting leaving you feeling totally zapped of energy
  • Mind yourself and be aware of the impact on your own mental wellbeing
  • Take a break - make time to take a break from supporting your friend and do something nice for yourself
  • Know your limits. Be realistic about what support you can offer and try not to take too much on
  • Even if your friend has asked you not to tell anyone, it is important that you talk to a professional so that your friend can get the support that is needed
  • Talk to someone you trust. Don’t forget to look after your own mental health by talking to someone else and getting things off your chest.

For more information, read our articles on helping a friend with depression, tips for being a good listener, and conversation starters on mental health.

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Published September 29th, 2015
Last updated July 27th, 2018
Tags mental health suicide listening is helping
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