As a therapist that works with teenagers I have often been confronted with the question of how to help a friend that is thinking about suicide. Many of my teenage clients have had friends confide in them about feeling like they want to end their lives, and not knowing where else to turn. Let’s address in this post some ways you can help. This is a tough topic to talk about. If you feel sad or triggered by anything you read here, I encourage you to stop reading and reach out to a friend, family member, or any of the resources listed at the end of this post.
The first thing to do when you are worried about a friend, or when they have confided in you that they are thinking about suicide is to ASK and LISTEN. Almost everyone is uncomfortable talking about suicide, but research shows that
most people that end their lives have talked about feeling suicidal before. Research also shows that bringing up and talking about suicide is one of the MOST HELPFUL things you can do. Statistics show that teenagers are much
more likely to tell a friend that they are feeling suicidal than another adult or parent.
Do not be afraid to ASK a friend directly about suicide. It can be as simple as starting a conversation by saying, “I am concerned about you lately” I will ask my clients, “have you had any dark thoughts about hurting yourself or ending your life?” ASK if they have thought about or researched suicide or have a specific plan. ASK if they have seriously considered ending their lives. ASK what adults around them know about this.
LISTEN to their responses and take what they say very seriously. Do not try to offer a lot of advice. Let your friend know that you are there for them, tell your friend how much they are valued. In talking and listening make sure to try to be empathetic, non judgmental, and hopeful.
The second thing to do after ASKing and LISTENing is to TELL someone. It is a huge burden to carry to know that a friend is contemplating suicide. Make sure to stay calm as much as possible when talking to a friend that is suicidal.
Let your friend know that you care about and love them a lot, and that therefore you need to tell an adult about what they have told you. You can talk to them about which adults they would feel comfortable with you telling, it may not alwaysbe their parents, it may be a church leader, a school counselor, a teacher, or someone else.
It is vitally important to get an adult involved so that further steps can be taken to help your friend, like professional counseling. If your friend tells you they have a plan, and the means to carry out a plan, (aka they said they want to overdose and they have the pills in their room) it is especially necessary to get help right away.
I know it can be scary to TELL something that a friend has confided in you. You may be afraid of losing their friendship and trust, but ultimately remember that their safety is the priority. It is never your fault if a friend or loved one ends their life. It is necessary to share this knowledge with a trusted adult so you do not have to feel the full weight of helping your friend. Understand that even after you TELL an adult, your friend will still need your love and support, as well as reminders that you care. I cannot stress this enough, whatever your reasons for wanting to keep a secret for your friend, remember it is not as important as your friend being kept safe.
The third thing you can do to help prevent suicide is to STOP any bullying that is going on around you. Do not put yourself in an unsafe situation in order to stop bullying, but if you are a part of teasing or bullying a peer, do whatever you can to STOP this from happening.
One research study done in Britain reported that at least half of teen suicides are related to bullying. You may think that teasing is harmless, or it may be difficult to feel like you fit in, but remember the serious consequences that can happen as a result of teasing and bullying. Everyone we encounter is fighting a battle of some sort, even those who look like they have it all together.
Remember the wise words of Elder Uchtdorf: “When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: STOP it!”
The last thing to do is to share resources with a friend. There are several great places that friends can reach out to if they are feeling like ending their lives. Listed at the end of this post are some crisis lines and resources.
And last but not least, if you are feeling suicidal yourself, please reach out for help. You will not always feel this way, there are ways to feel better. I have had several clients that have felt suicidal and that now enjoy their lives and feel happy. If you are actively suicidal just try to wait one day, one month, or one year, and make sure to reach out immediately to get help and support for how you are feeling. I promise that each step, no matter how small can be a turning point toward feeling better. Relying on spiritual principles is fantastic and is a huge part of feeling better, but it is also important to get professional help if you are feeling suicidal.
I know from experience that there is hope when it comes to suicide. If we can be committed to reaching out to each other in love and support, we can make a difference.
Suicide Prevention Resources USA
Text Crisis line: You can text a trained therapist any time day or night and it is
TEXT “GO” TO 741741
National Crisis line: You can call and speak with a trained therapist any time day or night, confidential and free:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 800-273-8255
National Chat line: You can chat a trained professional, confidential and free:
International Suicide Prevention Resources
National Hopeline Network
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
(800) 273-TALK (8255)
National Youth Crisis Hotline
(800) 442-HOPE (4673)
Samaritans (UK Crisis Help, Anywhere in the UK or Ireland)