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How to Help a Friend

How to Help a Friend who has Thoughts of Suicide
One of the most frightening and upsetting experiences a person can encounter is hearing a friend or loved one say he or she wants to die. Even though such an experience can bring up many difficult questions and concerns for you, it may be comforting to know that there are steps you can take and information you can learn that may help reduce the risk of serious harm to someone you care about. Indeed, given that depression is fairly common among 18- to 24-year-olds, it is important to know what you can do to identify and help a friend in crisis.
  • It is a myth that, if someone is already contemplating suicide, then there is nothing you can do to stop him or her. Most crisis situations involving suicidal thoughts are time-limited and accompanied by symptoms of severe depression, including distorted thinking and extreme emotional distress. A person experiencing such pain and distress may be viewing suicide as an escape. However, letting a suicidal friend know that help is out there can be enough to pull him or her through this very difficult time.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your friend directly if he or she is having thoughts of suicide. It is a myth that you will be putting ideas into his or her head, and the answer will provide you with important information on how to proceed in getting the help he or she needs.
Below you will find some common warning signs that someone you know may be contemplating suicide. Although some suicides occur without warning, most people at risk of hurting themselves show some signs of their distress to the people around them.
  • Decreased interest in and/or withdrawal from social activities or friends 
  • Preferring to be alone most of the time
  • Sudden decline in academic motivation or performance
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, sadness, anger, and/or guilt
  • Fatigue or decreased energy
  • Sudden neglect of personal hygiene and/or appearance
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Changes in patterns of sleeping or eating
  • Engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviors, such as increased use of drugs and/or alcohol, driving while intoxicated, walking out into traffic, or cutting oneself
  • Preoccupation with death or violence
  • Experiencing a recent crisis such as a major loss, failure, or rejection
  • Unhealthy or unstable interpersonal relationships
  • Sudden changes in mood
  • Difficulty adjusting to one’s gender identity
  • Previous suicide attempts or a family history of suicide attempts
A friend or loved one may be in need of immediate help if he or she shows signs of:
  • Writing or talking about suicide or death
  • Giving away personally meaningful possessions to close others
  • Securing a means of hurting him- or herself (such as a weapon or prescription drugs)
  • Saying statements such as:
·        “I just don’t want to live anymore.”
·        “I can’t take this much longer.”
·        “I’m going to end it all.”
·        “I wish I were dead.”
·        “My life has no meaning.”
·        “They’d be better off without me.”
·        “Soon you won’t have to worry about me.”
·        “Nobody would care if I were dead.”
·        “I can’t go on anymore.”
·        “My life isn’t worth living.”
If you notice any of these warning signs in a friend or loved one, know that there are things you can do to help minimize his or her risk of causing serious self-harm. Here are some tips that can help you through a crisis situation:
  • There is no “right” or “wrong” thing to say to your friend if you are speaking openly out of sincere love and concern. Show the person you care by sitting with him or her and offering an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on.
  • Be non-judgmental, sensitive, patient, and accepting of all your friend says to you. Show that you are willing to simply be there and listen. Show him or her that it is safe to talk to you. Your genuine concern for your friend’s safety and well-being will be come across naturally. 
  • Don’t try to “make it all better” by offering quick and easy suggestions to solve your friend’s problems, because you run the risk of minimizing your friend’s feelings. The only thing that matters is how your friend thinks and feels about the problems he or she is facing. Instead of trying to rationalize with your friend, empathize with what he or she is going through without making any judgments about the way he or she feels.
  • Take every suicidal idea, threat, plan, or attempt very seriously. Do not hesitate to contact an authority (such as an RA) or professional (such as CPS staff) who is trained to help in emergency situations. Also, do not leave your friend alone until this professional assistance has arrived. 
  • Do not agree to keep you friend’s suicidal thoughts a secret. It is true that seeking help for a friend can sometimes feel like a betrayal and you may even fear losing your friendship. Remember—you run the risk of losing the friendship forever if you do not do something to help. Your friend will thank you when he or she is feeling well again. 
  • Coping with a friend’s suicide threat can be extremely stressful and upsetting. You don’t have to go through it alone. Seek help for yourself as you come to terms with what has happened. Talk about your experience with a trustworthy parent, friend, pastor, or clinical professional. You can contact Fordham University’s Counseling and Psychological Services at (718) 817-3725 or (212) 636-6225 to schedule an appointment or a walk-in. 
“What to Do When a Friend Is Feeling Suicidal” by Nancy Schimelpfening. ©2007 About, Inc., A part of The New York Times Company. All rights reserved. Retrieved on February 14, 2007, from

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