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:
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.
People talk about suicide very indirectly. Your friend may not say ‘I want to die’, but they may instead say:
Their actions might also be signs of their suicidal thoughts:
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.
Being direct is the best approach to understand how your friend is doing and if there is any risk.
Ask these questions:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
These simple exercises can help while you wait for help:
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.
Call emergency services (Kenya Red Cross, a doctor, a friend close to them etc.) right away if they:
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:
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.
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.