Ways of Helping Loved Ones when they’re having suicidal Thoughts!

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Better ways to prevent suicide

One of your close friends has been struggling lately. When you messaged to see how they’re doing, they replied: “I can’t stand myself. I spend all day thinking about the mistakes I’ve made. The world would be better off without me. At least I wouldn’t feel so terrible anymore.”

No, they didn’t come right out and say, “I’m thinking about suicide.” Still, the underlying meaning of their words alarms you.

You care about your friend and want to offer reassurance, but you’ve never had thoughts of dying yourself, and you have no idea what to say.

It’s normal to feel helpless when a friend mentions suicide, however indirectly, but there’s a lot you can do to help. In fact, your compassion and support could make all the difference.

How to help when they’re having suicidal thoughts
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Suicidal thoughts aren’t uncommon.

In 2018, more than 10 million Americans Trusted Source had serious thoughts of suicide.

These thoughts often arise in 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 suicide remains the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 10–34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source.

It is a significant health crisis — and a preventable one.

The steps below can help you support your friend through a moment of crisis.

Take them at their word

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It’s a common myth that people talk about suicide to get attention. This is not the case for most people, so it’s always best (and safest) to assume your friend means what they say.

Brushing off their mention of suicide invalidates their distress. They may feel reluctant to share their thoughts with anyone else or reach out for professional support.

Instead, they might continue carrying their pain in silence, believing things will never improve.

Pay attention to their language and behavior

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People often talk about suicide in vague or unclear ways.

Your friend could say things that reflect a sense of shame, hopelessness, or failure. They may not say, “I want to die,” or “I want to kill myself.” Instead, they might say:

  • “I just want the pain to stop.”
  • “I don’t know if I can go on.”
  • “I’m a burden to everyone.”
  • “I’ll never feel better.”

Their mood and actions can also show some signs.

You might notice they:

  • avoid spending time with people
  • have frequent mood changes
  • sleep more or less than usual
  • drink or use drugs more than usual
  • take risks or behave more impulsively than usual
  • give away treasured or important belongings

These signs don’t always mean your friend is thinking about suicide, but it never hurts to have a conversation when their actions or language concern you.

Ask them directly

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You can get a better idea of your friend’s immediate risk by asking a few important questions.

  • First, confirm they really are thinking of suicide by asking, “Are you thinking about ending your life?”
  • If they say yes, ask, “Do you have a plan for how you’d do it?”
  • If they say yes, ask, “Do you already have the things you’d use?” Then ask what and where those items are.
  • Check whether they have a timeline in mind by asking, “Have you thought about when you’d end your life?”

Not everyone who thinks about dying has a plan or the means and intent to carry out their plan. Someone who says yes to all of these questions and has a clear timeframe for dying, however, needs immediate support (more on this in a moment).

Encourage them to talk about it

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When someone you love mentions suicide, you might believe avoiding the subject entirely and encouraging them to think about brighter things will help them feel better.

It’s normal to feel scared or uncertain of the best response, but shying away from the subject won’t help.

Your friend might take your avoidance as a sign you aren’t comfortable talking about suicide. They might also get the message you don’t appreciate the depth of their pain, even when that’s not the case. In either case, they might stop confiding in you.

Offer compassion

When talking to someone who’s having thoughts of suicide, what you say really matters.

You don’t want to deny their distress or ask things like, “How could you possibly feel that way?” or “Why would you want to die? You have so much to live for.”

Trying to solve problems for them usually won’t help, either — what might seem like a small fix to you can seem insurmountable to someone in a crisis.

To validate their feelings and offer hope at the same time, try:

  • “That sounds so painful, and I appreciate you sharing that with me. How can I help?”
  • “I know things seem bleak now, but it can be hard to see possible solutions when you feel so overwhelmed.”
  • “I’m concerned about you because I care, and I want to offer support however I can. You can talk to me.”

Continue to offer support

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If your friend has thoughts of suicide but no plan or immediate risk, they may feel a little better after sharing their distress.

This doesn’t mean they’re completely fine. They may continue to deal with suicidal thoughts until they get help addressing the underlying concern.

Staying in touch with your friend can remind them you still care, even after the crisis has passed.

Check in on how they’re feeling by saying things like:

  • “Hey, I’ve been thinking about you. How are you doing?”
  • “Remember, I’m always here if you feel like talking.”

Encourage professional support

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You can also support them by encouraging them to talk to a therapist about lingering or recurring suicidal thoughts.

Just remember you can’t force them to go to therapy, no matter how deeply you believe it would help.

It can feel pretty upsetting to watch someone struggle alone, but telling them what to do may not work.

These suggestions show your friend you care while gently reminding them of your limits. You probably can’t offer any real solutions to their distress, but therapists are trained to support and help people having thoughts of suicide.

If your friend seems reluctant, try offering to help them find a therapist or take them to their first appointment.

THE BOTTOM LINE

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.

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