How to Help a Friend

If you are reading this page out of concern for someone, you’ve probably observed some of these warning signs:

  • Talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself
  • Increased substance use or abuse (alcohol or drug)
  • No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Feeling trapped – like there’s no way out
  • Hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and society
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Dramatic mood changes

How To Help…

Many of our hotline callers phone us out of concern for a relative, friend, coworker, or client. Such callers are usually very anxious to help but don’t know how. One of their biggest concerns is they will “make matters worse.” Typically they envision that mentioning the word “suicide” to people who seem distressed will put the idea into their minds and endanger them.  This is not the case.

The truth is that you can best help a friend if you speak openly about your concerns AND your caring.  Describing in a gentle tone of voice what you’ve observed and stating that you are worried for the person’s well-being is often a good place to start.  Something like, “I’m worried about you.  You don’t seem to be the same lately, what’s been going on?” Then it’s best to listen.

Next it’s very important to acknowledge the emotional pain that you’re hearing. You might say “It sounds like you’re feeling so sad and alone right now.” If you’re concerned that suicide is a possibility you can then add “I’m wondering if you’ve been thinking about suicide.” Then listen.

So often when people are considering suicide, they very much want to talk about it, but are afraid of being criticized. If you’re able to be open-minded about whatever answer comes, you’re likely to hear a sigh of relief — relief at being honest with someone about a subject that is often taboo, relief at being heard, relief at being accepted — suicidal thoughts and all.

Remember…

  • Be aware of the warning signs.  Show interest and support.   Ask if he/she is thinking about suicide.
  • Talk openly and freely about suicide.  Allow for expression of feelings.  Accept the feelings.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or feelings are good or bad.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support. Get help from individuals or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

If you’ve already had conversations with someone about their suicidal thoughts and found yourself giving advice or even getting angry, you’re not alone. This kind of conversation is unfamiliar to most people and loaded with emotional content. A call to a suicide hotline can help you determine what your next steps might be.

If you would like immediate help, please call Response Hotline at (631) 751-7500 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Through this toll-free phone number, you will be connected to the nearest available crisis center. These centers staff their lines with people who are trained to listen and offer support to people in emotional crisis.

If you are in immediate medical crisis, please call 911.