How to Support a Friend with Suicidal Thoughts
Monday, September 19, 2022
Across the world, one person takes their own life every 40 seconds. And with many of these tragic deaths, several others are left behind with pain, grief, and sorrow. Just as waves spread outward when a single pebble is dropped into a pond, suicide too creates a ripple effect, causing heartache for countless others.
Those left behind, suicide loss survivors, may be friends, family, or loved ones. Oftentimes, suicide loss survivors face an intense grieving process, which commonly includes feelings of guilt, anger, abandonment, confusion, and hopelessness.
However, suicide can often be prevented. If you see a loved one struggling, reach out. You can save not just one, but several lives that would be affected.
This month is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — a time to raise awareness and learn how to support your friends.
“Suicide awareness is so important. It’s crucial that each and every one of us notice the signs of someone who may be contemplating suicide and get them the help they need,” said Suja Raju, a psychiatrist at Iredell Psychiatry.
Recognizing the signs of suicide in a friend, family member, coworker, or classmate is the first step.
Important Warning Signs
Many people who are contemplating suicide feel as if there is no way out of their sadness, that they have no purpose, or that they have no control. These thoughts and feelings can lead to outward signs.
“Warning signs you may notice in someone who is having suicidal thoughts may include isolation and a lack of engagement with others, verbalizing not wanting to live, or giving away belongings,” said Raju.
Other signs may include:
- Making threats or talking about hurting themselves
- Talking or writing about death or dying
- Acting reckless
- Having dramatic mood swings
If you notice these signs in a loved one, offer your help and support. It may feel uncomfortable and scary at first, as suicide can be a sensitive topic to approach, but it is crucial to start the conversation with them.
How to Help a Friend
To help a friend you believe is at risk of suicide, you should start by finding a private environment that would make them feel comfortable and safe, if possible.
After you are in a safe environment, tell your friend you are worried about them, and ask them to express their feelings.
“Talk to them about how they are feeling. If you are close to them, try to get them to open up about their thoughts,” said Raju.
Asking about suicide will not cause your friend to consider it. Instead, it will show that you care and allow them to talk about their problems.
Offer a non-judgmental, listening ear. Give your friend your full attention as they open up to you. Never make light of or ignore your friend’s concerns, and do not act shocked or surprised.
When you respond, do so in a supportive, encouraging way.
“Telling them to ‘get over it’ will not help. It minimizes how they are feeling. Instead, react by providing support. Make your friend feel safe by reassuring them that you are there for them,” said Raju.
Let them know they are not alone and that everyone feels sad and depressed sometimes. Make sure they know there is hope and they are much stronger than they even realize.
“I think one of the misconceptions about those who are suicidal is that these individuals are ‘weak.’ When, in fact, they are going through a difficult time that got them to that point, and this does not make them ‘weak,’” said Raju.
According to Raju, if your friend is having suicidal thoughts, you should try to get rid of anything they could use to harm themselves, such as medications, guns, razors, and knives.
Lastly, encourage your friend to talk to a trained professional. Seek help from a mental health agency in your community, a therapist or counselor, a doctor, or a suicide-prevention or crisis center. You can also call a suicide hotline, as they offer access to trained phone counselors.
“After they visit a professional, continue to follow up with them. Ask your friend how they are feeling rather than bringing up the topic of harm,” said Raju.
Keep watch if your friend suddenly starts to seem better without speaking to a professional. Without proper treatment, feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide often return.
If your friend seems actively suicidal, do not leave them alone. Call 911, a crisis center, or take them to the emergency room immediately.
To reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, you can call or text 988. You can also chat online at 988lifeline.org/chat.
The Lifeline connects people to trained counselors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Lifeline counselors will listen, ask questions, and offer their advice. They can also help you get immediate assistance.
Helping a loved one get the assistance they need can be a difficult task. Make sure to take care of yourself and always reach out if you need support.
Raju practices at Iredell Psychiatry and is accepting new patients. If you would like to learn more or schedule an appointment with Dr. Raju, please call 704-380-3620.