Tips to help your suicidal friend
One of your close friends has been struggling lately. When you messaged to see how they’re doing, they replied: “I can’t stand myself. I spend all day thinking about the mistakes I’ve made. The world would be better off without me. At least I wouldn’t feel so terrible anymore.”
Not everyone who has thoughts of suicide will make an attempt, but suicide remains the second leading cause of death among those ages 10–34. The steps below can help you support your friend through a moment of crisis.
Don't ignore them: It’s a common myth that people talk about suicide to get attention. This is not the case for most people, so it’s always best to assume your friend means what they say.
Pay attention to their language and behaviour: People often talk about suicide in vague or unclear ways. Your friend could say things that reflect a sense of shame, hopelessness, or failure. They may not say, “I want to die,” or “I want to kill myself.” Instead, their mood and actions can also show some signs.
Ask them directly: You can get a better idea of your friend’s immediate risk by asking a few important questions.
First, confirm they really are thinking of suicide by asking, “Are you thinking about ending your life?”
If they say yes, ask, “Do you have a plan for how you’d do it?”
If they say yes, ask, “Do you already have the things you’d use?” Then ask what and where those items are.
Check whether they have a timeline in mind by asking, “Have you thought about when you’d end your life?”
Not everyone who thinks about dying has a plan or the means and intent to carry out their plan. Someone who says yes to all of these questions and has a clear timeframe for dying.
Encourage them to talk about it: When someone you love mentions suicide, you might believe avoiding the subject entirely and encouraging them to think about brighter things will help them feel better. It’s normal to feel scared or uncertain of the best response but shying away from the subject won’t help.
Offer compassion: When talking to someone who’s having thoughts of suicide, what you say really matters. You don’t want to deny their distress or ask things like, “How could you possibly feel that way?” or “Why would you want to die? You have so much to live for.”
Encourage professional support: You can also support them by encouraging them to talk to a therapist. Just remember you can’t force them to go to therapy, no matter how deeply you believe it would help.
Try simple exercises together:
Get moving: Physical activity offers a good distraction since it requires you to focus on your motions. Try going for a walk with your friend or doing some simple exercises, like jumping jacks, together.
Grab a comfort item (or pet): If your friend has a favourite blanket, sweater, or soothing object, go find it together. Many people also find cuddling with a pet helps ease some distress.
Play the 5-4-3-2-1 game: Ask your friend to list 5 things they see, 4 things they hear, 3 things they smell, 2 things they can feel, and 1 thing they can taste.
Put on some music: While music can’t cure distress, listening to a favourite song can often help people relax.
Ask about their safety plan: Your friend may have created a safety plan with the help of a counsellor if they’ve had thoughts of suicide before. These plans are simple and brief, and generally include things like:
- warning signs of suicidal thoughts
- coping techniques to get through crisis periods
- a list of reasons to reconsider suicide
- contact information for support people
- steps to get to a safe place
Stay with them: Help your friend stay safe by sticking close or staying on the phone. If they don’t feel up to talking, you can try walking, watching a distracting movie or TV show, or even simply sitting together.
Involve others when overwhelmed: There may come a time when you feel unable to continue supporting your friend. You can only do so much to help on your own. If you begin feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or scared, it may be time to talk to other people in their life, like a parent or romantic partner.