In honor of world suicide prevention day, it seems appropriate to talk about how to help someone struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Here’s some ideas on what to do if a friend lets you know they are depressed, sad, anxious, or having dark thoughts.
- Positive reinforcement. If at any point someone shares anything with you regarding their thoughts or feelings, thank them. Easy things to say include:
- “I’m just so glad you told me.”
- “I know this was probably hard for you to say, but thank you so much for letting me know.”
- Sit with them for a minute. Don’t try to fix anything.
- Do say: “Oh wow friend, that sounds so incredibly hard. I can’t imagine what that feels like.” or “It’s ok, you don’t have to have a reason to be sad.”
- Don’t say: “But really, your life is wonderful. There are other people out there who are like, dying from starvation and stuff.” Or anything like, “You know it’s probably just a phase, just try to not think about it. Want to go out and have some fun to forget about it?”
- Do try: If they like psychical touch, hold their hand or wrap your arms around them. If they are crying, let them cry for as long as they like.
- After they’ve shared, it’s ok to lighten things up a bit. My husband asks me weird questions that make me laugh. “So what’s your favorite breakfast food?” Or my sister and I watch animal videos. Feel free to skip this step if you don’t feel comfortable.
- Ask what you can do to help. If they say they don’t need anything, try any of the below ideas.
- Offer to feed them. Food is hard when you’re sad.
- Offer to clean their house or do their laundry.
- Offer to sit with them for the night.
- Offer to watch a movie with them. Just make sure it’s a funny and light movie.
- If they haven’t told you in person, offer to come see them or leave work to meet up with them.
- If they accept any of the above offers, try helping them further. Be gentle with these suggestions.
- “Do you want me to help you find a counselor?”
- “Have you tried finding a psychiatrist? I’d love to help you find one, I know that can be overwhelming.”
- Don’t offer your own solutions. Unless you’re a trained medical professional, it’s just better if you don’t. Examples of bad advice:
- Have you tried exercising more?
- Maybe if you spent more time with your friends?
- I know this girl who was depressed and she totally fixed herself with no meds.
- Don’t worry, I’m sure you aren’t that depressed, it’s not like you want to kill yourself or anything. (NEVER assume anything. Maybe they have thought about killing themselves. Now they won’t feel safe telling you.)
If a friend tells you they think about hurting themselves or others.
- Don’t act shocked, surprised, or disgusting. I know it will be hard. But stay calm. The fact that they are telling you means they want help.
- Tell them thank you for telling you.
- Ask them if they have a plan. If they say yes, you need to get them to the emergency room. If they resist, call the police. The police are trained to handle these situations. Call 911, say my friend has a plan to hurt herself, can you please go check on her? If they deem your friend is in danger, they will take her to the hospital.
- If they don’t have a plan, stay with them until you feel they are in a safe place. Continue to check in. Bug the shit out of your friend. It’s totally appropriate. “HEY! How are you today? How are the thoughts? How are the feelings?” Get them in a private place and check in with them.
- Keep it quiet. DO NOT SHARE with anyone unless they give you permission.
- You can ask for permission. “I think your parents should know what’s going on, have you thought about telling them? I can help you, if you’d like”
Overall, you aren’t a medical professional, you are a friend. This is about all you can do.
I hope this helps. If this list is too long, check out this fantastic-amazing-wonderful blog that describes depression in a way almost everyone can understand.
Or you can just pretend they broke their leg. “Oh you broke your leg!!!! That probably hurts a lot! Let’s get you to the hospital!!”
You wouldn’t tell your friend with a broken leg to ignore it, or to keep it to themselves. Or that you knew someone who put their leg back together without any help and you’re sure they can do the same.
Now, if when you are helping your friend, you find yourself absorbing all the sad feelings, that’s ok. You might feel heavy, or worried, scared, or sad. You should also find a professional to talk to. If the feelings are more than you can handle, it’s ok to let your friend know you don’t feel qualified to help them, and refer them to a counselor. You can be there for them without taking on all their pain.
Let me know if you need any help, you can always email me at SJoCrawford@gmail.com.
P.S. A licensed professional looked this over, however, if you think I messed up somewhere, let me know.