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Your friend tells you they're suicidal, now what?

With a gun in his hand pressed up against his temple, he reflects on his life and on all the people he jokingly told he was going to end it. Why didn’t they save me? If they offered help, would I have been in this position? Don’t want to do this, but it’s too late now. I tried, I tried to get help, I reached out and was told that I have nothing to be depressed about, I was told I was only trying to get attention, I was told depression is not real, but these thoughts are real. The pain is invisible but it’s very real the sleepless nights, sleeping all day, feeling so alone, nobody understands this pain, being abandoned time after time, by my parents, friends, failed relationships, failing grades, everything I do fails. He pulls the trigger, it is too late to save Michaël now, but there are a lot of people who experience suicidal thoughts and ideation, many individuals who are in so much pain that they resort to ending their lives. But can anything be done to save these people? (Yes!) What can be done if a friend tells you they are suicidal or they have suicidal thoughts?

Before we delve deeper into what can be done to help a friend who discloses they are suicidal, let us differentiate between being suicidal and have suicidal thoughts. With suicidal thoughts or passive suicidal ideation, the individual has thoughts of self-harm, they actively want to die but they do not have a plan to carry out with the act. Whereas with being suicidal or active suicidal ideation the person has a plan to carry out the act. Both are equally distressing to the individual experiencing it as these thoughts may create fear as people who are suicidal or have these thoughts are afraid of them and for some, they may find a level of comfort (using suicide as a fallback plan or way out). So how do we help a friend who tells you they are suicidal?

First, take your friend’s word for it! Most persons don’t talk about their suicidal thoughts or ideation for attention, they may be actively trying to get help for these distressing thoughts. Not taking them seriously invalidates their struggles which can deter them from reaching out to you or other people further, causing them to continue to suffer in pain or kill themselves.

Second, pay attention to your friend’s language and behavior! You should know that your friend may talk about suicide vaguely or in unclear ways as was seen in the case of Michaël. Your friends may say things such as I will never feel better or you may notice them becoming more withdrawn, they may have frequent mood changes, insomnia/ hypersomnia, increase the use of drugs and alcohol. Although these behaviors may not necessarily mean the person is suicidal, still talk to your friend to ascertain the cause for these behaviors.

Third, ask them directly!

a) Are you thinking about ending your life?

b) If yes, do you have a plan?

c) Do you have the items available to conduct the plan?

d) What are they and where is it?

e) When do you plan on doing it?

As was noted before not everyone who has suicidal thoughts have a plan, however, if your friend was to answer yes to each of these, they may need immediate help, consult with a mental health professional or doctor for the best course of action. It might be essential for you to remain with your friend until helps arrives to ensure that they do not follow through with their plan.

Fourth, encourage your friend to talk about it! Avoidance of the issue can be looked at by your friend that you are uncomfortable talking about suicide, and your friend suicidal thoughts. Leading your friend to feel like you don’t understand their pain and they may stop confiding in you. You may also believe that telling your friend to think positively might get them to feel better, but this can also push them further away from you and into isolation and can cause them to feel much worse as they may feel as if they are doing something wrong because they can’t make themselves feel better. It is normal for you to feel afraid and uncertain of what to say but shying away from the issue is not helpful to you or your friend. It is important to note that talking about suicide WOULD NOT CAUSE YOUR FRIEND TO KILL THEMSELVES!

Fifthly, offer compassion! When your friend confides in you, validate their feelings, please avoid saying things such as ‘other persons have it worse than you, I am sure you have things to live for’ this can further push your friend into isolation. Maybe saying ‘I care, and I am concerned about you, how can I help?’ would be more beneficial. Also, you should continue to offer support, staying in touch with your friend and checking up on them can let your friend know that you care about them.

While helping your friend is of extreme importance taking care of yourself is of utmost importance. Helping someone who is suicidal can be emotionally draining especially when you’re not in a mentally healthy place. Do not hesitate to also reach out for mental health support and understand that you can not help everyone and if your friend does not want your help, you cannot force them to receive it.

Did we miss anything? Comment down below, how are you really doing? Share your stories!

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