How to help a friend experiencing suicidal thoughts

Has that ever happened? What did you think? What did you do? How did you feel? Did you just dismissed them or helped your friend?
Do you know what to do?

This might not be a situation that you come across every day, but may not be as uncommon as well. It is very likely that you might find yourself in a situation when a friend or someone in family reveals in some way that they are feeling hopeless, or worthless, or helpless, or have suicidal thoughts.

People who kill themselves have often told someone that they do not feel life is worth living or that they have no future. Some may have actually said they want to die.

People talk about suicide as a way of getting attention, in the sense of calling out for help.
It’s important to always take someone seriously if they talk about feeling suicidal.

Providing them support or helping them get the support they need could save their life. The majority of people who feel suicidal do not actually want to die – they do not want to live the life they have.

It is not true that if a person wants to really die, you cannot do much about it. The truth is even with people who might have ongoing suicidal thoughts due to depression, anxiety or other factors, temporarily, feel actively suicidal. It is that time frame when the thoughts might become extremely persistent and feel like the only possible solution in a person’s mind. Other times they are an internal dialogue, a bargain, that a person is going through in their mind between choosing life and death, the negatives of the situation, past, present and possibilities, if any, in the future.

The truth is 1 in 5 people have thought about suicide at some time in their life. And not all people who die by suicide have mental health problems at the time they die. However, many people who kill themselves do suffer from their mental health.

People who talk about suicide do not actually want to die, they are feeling tired of the way life is for them. This small difference is so important because talking to them about other options can be actually helpful. Unconsciously, this is what they want to hear, yes there is hope, yes there is a possible way out, yes life keeps changing and does not always remain static or stagnant or stuck. Especially, because their mind may not be letting them dwell too long on the safer options.

Talking about suicide does not give the person ideas, it does not push them to take the step. In fact, it helps them feel validated and heard. People feeling suicidal do not always like to disclose the thoughts due to the fear of being judged, misunderstood, dismissed, not heard or even because they do not want to burden someone else or because they feel ashamed of their thoughts. Thus, being there, taking a non-judgmental, open-minded, stance is enough to support them, just being genuine and supportive is suffice for the person most of the time.

Some ways to keep in mind if are talking to a friend who is struggling with suicidal thought-

  • Be there for them without judgements, reproach, advice or arguments.
  • Be alert- if your sense tells you it is an emergency on the backdrop of serious mental health issue, support them to seek right professional help.
  • Take care of your own mental health.
  • Validate their feelings.
  • Let them know you are there to listen. That is enough in most situations. Truly.
  • Let them express.
  • Do not push them to talk, again, just let them know you are there to listen whenever they would want to talk.
  • Try making a plan about how often you would contact them.
  • Tell them- they should tell you or someone else they trust, reach out when they are feeling actively suicidal.

We are not used to talking about or listening to issues related to mental health. Definitely, not with ease. In most cultures, it is often a conversation, that is met with ridicule or simply dismissed. Thus, it is hard, very hard, for anyone struggling or suffering to speak up without feeling blamed, shamed or judged. Talking about feeling hopeless or suicidal definitely ticks all those boxes.

Let the change begin with me. Let the change begin with you. Let the change begin with us.

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