Suicide can be a very frightening topic to broach, and it’s not something anyone wants to discuss lightly. This is why it’s generally very important to take someone seriously when they begin to discuss suicide. Even jokes about suicide, if made frequently and specifically in reference to your friend wanting to attempt suicide, can be a cry for help. While suicides can often seem like they’re decided out of the blue, the process to eventually coming to the ultimate conclusion is a long one and starts much earlier than most might suspect.
While there isn’t much you can do to tell what someone is thinking about, there are a few signs that your friend may be thinking about suicide or potentially at risk for suicide, including:
- Talking about killing themselves
- Talking about hopelessness
- Feeling like there’s no reason to live
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Feeling trapped and in pain
- Increased alcohol/drug use
- Search history of suicide methods
- Withdrawing from old hobbies
- Too much/too little sleep
- Giving away previously prized things
- Saying goodbye to people
- Severe depression
- Irritability and bursts of anger
- Manic periods (high energy, great relief, constant agitation)
While none of these are conclusive, they may be a reason to address the issue with your friend. Knowing what you should and shouldn’t do when someone you care about is contemplating suicide can go a long way towards helping your friend.
Know Who to Call and When to Call
Talking about suicide and fighting with thoughts of suicide is the kind of behavior that is best resolved through a calm, open, and empathetic conversation, rather than calling emergency services. However, there is a time for when it’s important to know what numbers to call. One idea might be to ask your friend if they’ve thought about how they want to do it. Most people might say that they aren’t sure, or that they don’t know if they can get themselves to actually do it. Most of the time, when these answers are given, it means it’s likely that being compassionate and open may be enough to help your friend feel better.
But when it’s clear that a concrete plan of action has been formulated, things change. It takes a crucial mental step to go from contemplating suicide, to planning and deciding the final few moments of your life. It’s a good idea to prepare yourself to make a call if things go wrong
If you find your friend unconscious, unresponsive, or in the middle of a suicide attempt, immediately dial 911 or the local equivalent. Emergency services will be on their way. 1-800-273-8255 is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, for anyone unsure of what to say to a friend in need.
It’s important to realize that suicide attempts can be averted, but that does not necessarily eliminate the risk of a second attempt. While only a small percentage of people who first attempt suicide and survive try again, it does happen, and should never be ruled out. The factors that drive someone to consider and ultimately commit suicide must be addressed and eliminated for the healing process to properly work.
Know What Not to Say
Some things are good to hear when you’re on the brink, and some things can push you off the brink – in a very bad way. Knowing what not to say is important to make sure you make progress while talking to a friend contemplating suicide.
Speak from the heart, with a positive attitude. Hold your friend. Tell them they do matter to you. Prove to them that, despite what they think and how they feel, they’re important to someone in this world, and their existence has purpose and meaning. Let the know that they’d leave a void in the world, and that life is better with them around.
Ideally, you don’t have to say too much, for the most part. It’s much more effective and important to ask and listen. Ask how your friend is feeling. Why they’re thinking what they’re thinking. What else they’re thinking. Listen to them vent, rant, and rage. The most passionate they get about their problems, the better.
The scariest thing would be to hear them be completely apathetic to their own worst plights. Sometimes, all a friend really needs is someone to share the struggle with – a moment of pure honesty, where two can exchange words without thoughts or feelings of prejudice and stigma.
Some fear to talk about their depressive thoughts or suicidal ideation out of fear of being judged as a loon. Be sure your friend understands that you take them seriously, and that you’re not automatically attaching labels to them simply due to how they feel.
Don’t End the Conversation
It’s best to hold onto your friend as long as possible. There’s a natural point to end every conversation but be sure you keep things going for as long as you feel you need to. If your friend says “thanks, I feel a lot better” or gives you some other clear indication that the crisis has been averted, you can freely decide to end the conversation. But if the air of danger still lingers, hold on. Keep it going. Keep asking questions, talking about things, eliciting thoughts and reactions.
It’s Not About Solutions
When your friend starts talking about their problems, it’s not your job to offer solutions – especially quick ones. While it might be tempting to go on about what they could’ve done differently or what they should do next, that’s not the immediate problem.
Your friend isn’t in the right mindset to listen to life advice – what they need is an affirmation for life to begin with. Rational arguments and planning aren’t exactly fortes for someone in the middle of a suicide attempt. Instead, focus on the emotional. Just having you around to listen and understand their struggle, as well as realize that there’s still a way to live on can help.
When All Else Fails
Sometimes, in spite of all attempts to change things, a person commits suicide. The impact that can have on friends and family – you included – can be tremendous. Don’t just try to pick up where you left off and go on with your life. Seek help. Even just spending a few hours a month with a counselor or therapist can help you explore and examine your thoughts and find a way to respond to this chapter in your life. Sometimes, you may be compelled to feel guilty. But there’s not much you can do, in the end, to persuade someone to not do something they’re determined to do.
Don’t let it eat at you too. Get help, and work with someone to find a way to live with what happened.