How To Help A Friend Who’s Thinking About Suicide

2011/06/15 in Health, Relationships

If you’re calling us because a friend is threatening to take his life right now and you’re with him, please listen carefully. If possible, remove the drugs, gun or whatever your friend may be considering using, from the area.


However, if your friend is holding a loaded gun, or has a knife, don’t try to take if away from him. Ask him to give you the weapon and then encourage him to talk about his feelings. Stay with your friend at least until this crisis is over. During this time, and this is very important, contact an adult you both trust who can help you deal with this situation – perhaps your friend’s parents or yours, a counselor at school or maybe a minister. Get in touch with an adult right now if there’s a weapon like a gun or knife involved.

If your friend is not in immediate danger, we’d like you to listen to the rest of this tape. We know that you want to help, but may be worried about what you can or should do and that’s understandable. We’ll give you some suggestions for what you can do, and also mention some things you shouldn’t do.

First, what not to do: Do not ignore your friend. If your friend is letting you know through words or actions that he or she is thinking about suicide, he’s reaching for help with a problem he can’t cope with any longer. If you don’t react at all because you don’t know what to do, or are frightened, you might make that problem worse for your friend. He already feels that nobody cares. He’ll become convinced that no one does when he doesn’t even get a response to what he’s saying or doing.

Another thing not to do is to try to make your friend feel better by telling him that the problem isn’t really that bad, that he’ll feel better tomorrow or that he doesn’t really mean it when he talks about wanting to die, or anything similar to this. A person thinking about suicide thinks that no one can possibly understand his problem and how horrible he feels. When you react by saying something like “You really don’t feel like that,” he’ll probably think that he is right – nobody understands.

Something else you shouldn’t ever do is try to handle a suicide situation by yourself, or with a group of friends. It takes many years of training to deal with this problem. If your help and advice failed, you might feel guilty and blame yourself.

The best thing you can do for your friend is to get in touch with an adult that you trust and believe your friend will trust and explain the situation to him or her. If it’s a teacher or counselor at school, or a priest or minister, call at home in the middle of the night if you have to. If your friend makes you promise not to tell anyone, break that promise! No matter what he says, he doesn’t really want to kill himself. He wants help solving his problems. And no matter how good a friend you are, you aren’t really qualified to offer that kind of help. So far we’ve talked mostly about what not to do if a friend is thinking about suicide. Is there anything you can do?

Well one thing you can do is to try to encourage him to talk about his problem. Talking may help him understand what he’s feeling and why he’s feeling that way. While he’s talking, you can listen very carefully for the feelings behind his comments. Then tell your friend what you think he’s saying about how he feels. You shouldn’t repeat what he said, but in your own words, state what his feelings about his problems seem to be.

Let’s look at an example how this might work.

Here’s an example of what we mean. If your friend’s boy friend has just broken up with her and she’s very depressed about it, she might say something like this to you, “I can never do anything right. Tom just told me we’re through, and I don’t see how I can live without him.” Now try to figure out what she’s saying about her feelings. It might be something like “You sound like you feel hurt, dumb and angry all at the same time.” And then let her respond to that. Talking with her this way will also let her know you’re trying to understand, which will also help. An important thing to remember when your friend is taking is that how she feels is more important that the problem or situation causing those feelings.

Accept what your friend is telling you he or she feels as the truth, and don’t argue with her. For example: Don’t say that her problem isn’t serious enough for her to feel that way about it or that you wouldn’t be feeling that way.

Another thing you can do for your friend is to give him or her something to look forward to. He’s probably feeling pretty hopeless about his problems. Encourage him to meet with an adult who can help. Offer to go with him if he would like that. Suggest that get together again to talk.

Trying to help someone who’s in a suicidal mood is a pretty tough thing for anyone to handle. Now, we’ve tried to give some advice about things you can do and the things you shouldn’t do if you find yourself faced with this problem. Don’t just ignore the situation. Don’t try to make your friend feel better by telling him or her that the problem really isn’t that bad. Don’t ever try to handle a suicide situation by yourself or with a group of friends. What you can do is believe that your friend really feels as bad as he says he does. Get him to understand why he feels the way he does by listening very carefully to his comments about his problems, and figuring out the feelings behind those comments. Tell him what you think he’s feeling and let him respond to that. Give him something to look forward to by suggesting that you get together again to talk or that he see an adult who will help him, and offer to go with him.

Suicide among young people is a serious and growing problem. You are doing something about this tragedy when you try to help someone who can’t help himself.


For additional support and resources please call our 24-hour Teen Hotline by dialing 2-1-1 or 954-567-8336 (TEEN.)

Teen Tapes is produced by the University of Wisconsin, Madison.