Start the conversation. Directly ask your friend, “are you thinking of ending your life?” There is a myth that you will give someone the idea of suicide if you ask them about it. In fact, it can be a great relief if you bring the question of suicide into the open and discuss it freely without showing shock or disapproval. Raising the question of suicide shows that you are taking the person seriously and responding to the potential of their distress.
“I’m deeply concerned about you and I want you to know that help is available to get you through this.”
Listen, express concern, and reassure. Listen to the reasons the person has for both living and dying. Validate that they are considering both options and underscore that living is an option for them. Let the person know you care. Letting them know that you take their situation seriously and you are genuinely concerned about them will go a long way in your effort to support them.
“I can’t imagine how tough this must be for you. I understand when you say that you aren’t sure if you want to live or die. But have you always wanted to die? Well, maybe there’s a chance you won’t feel this way forever. I can help.”
Create a safety plan. Ask the person if they have access to any lethal means (weapons and
medications) and help remove them from the vicinity. (Another friend, family member or law enforcement agent may be needed to assist with this.) Do not put yourself in danger; if you are concerned about your own safety, call 911. Create a safety plan together, ask the person what will help keep them safe until they can talk to a professional. Get a verbal commitment that the person will not act upon thoughts of suicide until they have met with a professional.
“Do you have any weapons or prescription medications in the house?”
Get help. Provide the person with the resources you have prepared. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime at (800) 273-8255. If you feel the situation is critical, take the person to a nearby emergency room or walk-in psychiatric crisis clinic or call 911.
“I understand if it feels awkward to go see a counselor. But there is a phone number we can call to talk to somebody. Maybe they can help?”
Don’t promote secrecy or say these things. The person may say that they don’t want you to tell anyone that they are suicidal. Say this instead: “I care about you too much to keep a secret like this. You need help and I am here to help you get it.” You may be concerned that they will be upset with you, but when someone’s life is at risk, it is more important to ensure their safety. If you want to talk about a friend in trouble, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. They’ll help you figure out what to do. You don’t have to be suicidal yourself to call a Suicide Prevention hotline. Don’t say, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. Your secret is safe with me.”
Don’t say, “you’re not thinking about doing something stupid.” Don’t ask questions in a way that shows you want to hear “no” for an answer. Don’t tell the person to do it. You may want to shout in frustration or anger, but this is the most dangerous thing you can say.