Suicidal thoughts are not uncommon. They arise as a response to stressful or challenging life situations, including physical or mental health issues, trauma, abuse, loneliness and isolation.

Not everyone who has thoughts of suicide will make an attempt, but the fact that suicide is a major cause of death makes it a significant health crisis.

Here are steps on how you can help your friend who is struggling with suicidal thoughts:

Believe them

There is a common belief that people talk about suicide only to get attention. This is not the case for most people, so it is better – and safer – to always assume your friend means what they say.

If you disregard their remark about suicide, they may lose trust in you and may not want to share their thoughts with anyone or find psychological support.

Pay attention to their language and behaviour

People talk about suicide very indirectly. Your friend may not say ‘I want to die’, but they may instead say:

  • I just want the pain to stop
  • I don’t think I can go on
  • I am a burden to everyone
  • I will never feel better

Their actions might also be signs of their suicidal thoughts:

  • Avoid spending time with people
  • Sleep more or less than usual
  • Give away treasured or important belongings

Since suicide is highly a result of depression, its good to look for signs of depression which can be found here

While these signs do not mean that your friend is thinking about suicide, its still good to have a talk with them and express your concern for them.

You might tell them: “I feel a little worried about you because… (mention a few things you’ve noticed). How can I support you?”


Ask them directly

Being direct is the best approach to understand how your friend is doing and if there is any risk.

Ask these questions:

  • Are you thinking about suicide?
  • If they say yes, ask, “Do you have a plan of how to do it?” ask them to explain their plan to you
  • Find whether they have set a date by asking, “Have you thought about when you would end your life?”

Not everyone who thinks about dying has a plan or the ability to carry out their plan. However, someone who says yes to the three questions needs immediate support.

Encourage them to talk about it

When a friend mentions suicide, you might think that avoiding the subject and encouraging them to think about better things will help them.

It is very normal to feel scared and afraid to talk about suicide. But avoiding discussing it will not help your friend. In fact, this might make them feel that you do not understand the pain that they are going through, which could make them stop sharing their challenges with you.

Offer compassion

When talking to a friend who is thinking about suicide, what you say to them is very important.

You don’t want to dismiss their remark or say things like, “How could you possibly feel that way?”, why would you want to die?”, “You have a family, friends to live for! What will happen to them? Have you thought about that?”

Trying to solve their problems might not help – what might seem like a small issue to you can seem very big to someone in a crisis.

What you want to do is accept their feelings so they feel understood and also offer hope. You might say:

  • “That sounds very painful. Thank you for sharing it with me. How can I help you?”
  • “I know things seem very difficult now, but it can be hard to see possible solutions when you feel so overwhelmed.”
  • “I am concerned about you because I care. I want to offer my support however I can. You can talk to me.”

Continue to offer your support

If your friend has thoughts about suicide but they don’t have a plan, then talking with them can help relieve some of their distress.

They may continue having suicidal thoughts, so staying in touch with them is important. It shows them that you still care about them.

You can visit them or give them a phone call and say:

  • “Hey, I’ve been thinking about you. How are you doing?”
  • “Remember that I am always here if you would like to talk”

Encourage them to seek professional support

You can encourage your friends to go talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist. Don’t force them to go, just offer it as a suggestion.

"Have you thought about talking to a therapist?” or “I’m always here to listen, but do you think a therapist could help a little more?”


How to help when they have a high suicide risk

Someone who has a high risk of suicide may need more help than you can offer them.

If your friend has a plan for suicide, access to what they’d need to carry it out, and a specific timeframe, you’ll want to support them by getting professional help right away.

  • Encourage them to call a suicide Hotline. If they are in Kenya, they can call Kenya Red Cross for free at 1199 or Befrienders Kenya at: +254 722 178 177

  • If necessary, take them to the hospital immediately
  • Stay with them until you find help. You can also remove any items that they may use to harm themselves such as knives, ropes, poison, or weapons

While waiting for professional support to arrive, you can try the exercises below. These exercises can help your friend regain clarity and focus since they distract from their distress.

Try grounding exercises

These simple exercises can help while you wait for help:

  • Get moving: Physical activity offers a good distraction since it requires you to focus on your movement. Try going for a walk with your friend together.
  • 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 favorite song can often help people relax.

Stay with them

Help your friend stay safe by staying on the phone or staying with them.

If they don’t want to talk with you, you can try walking, watching a distracting movie, TV show or listening to the radio, or even simply sitting together.

Reassure them you’ll stay until someone else arrives, and help them connect with other friends or family members.

  • Instead of: “Can I call someone for you?”
  • Try: “Who can I call for you?”

Call emergency services (Kenya Red Cross, a doctor, a friend close to them etc.) right away if they:

  • resist the idea of getting help but still express an intent to die
  • tell you over the phone they have access to weapons or other means of ending their life

Involve others

A time might come when you feel unable to keep 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.

Encourage them to connect with trusted friends, family members, healthcare providers, and others who can offer compassionate support.


Supporting a friend experiencing suicidal thoughts isn’t always easy. You can’t always provide the support they need, so it’s important to recognize when the crisis has passed the point where you can safely handle it alone.

There are several ways you can offer to help your friend:

  • Call a suicide hotline:
    • Kenya Red Cross: 1199 (free to call)
    • Befrienders Kenya: +254722178177

If you believe your friend is in real danger, don’t hesitate to call 999 or take them to the hospital immediately. They may get upset in the moment, but your action can help them stay safe.

Final thoughts

Thoughts of suicide, even if they seem vague, should always be taken seriously. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to helping a friend who’s thinking about suicide, but you can never go wrong by showing compassion and support.