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My friend told me they want to die. What should I do?

What to do when a friend is feeling suicidal

You’re having an overdue catch-up with your friend. During the conversation, they admit they’ve thought about killing themselves. It may have come out as a remark in passing or it may be a tearful admission. Whatever it is and however it comes out, it should be taken seriously and responded to immediately.

So what next?

When a friend admits they want to die, it can be a nerve-wracking situation for you to be in. What do you do? What do you say?

The fact that your friend feels comfortable enough to confide in you says a lot about the level of trust they have in you.  It also shows that they are open to receiving help.  That’s why it’s so important to take this responsibility seriously. Telling a friend about thoughts of death or suicide is a cry for help. At this point, it’s up to you to try and help your friend the appropriate help they need.

  1. Acknowledge their openness: Your friend has just shared with you an extremely private thing. It takes a great deal of courage to be so vulnerable with another human being. Acknowledge this fact. Thank them for opening to you.
  1. Listen closely, and validate their feelings: Listen intently when they’re sharing and don’t start talking too soon. Allow them to cry if they want to and acknowledge their pain. But don’t interrupt while they’re still talking. Acknowledge their pain.  During the conversation, you can validate their feelings by both your body language (facial expressions, gestures) and speech. You can say: This must be a hugely difficult thing that you’re going through right now. You must be in a lot of pain.
  1. Identify if they have a plan:  Ask whether your friend has a plan to kill themselves, or if they have ever tried to hurt themselves in the past.  While these may sound like difficult things to ask, they’re  important. You need to understand if your friend is in immediate danger. Immediate danger includes a person with a plan or in possession of a weapon, pills, or other means to complete suicide.
  1. Promise discretion but never secrecy: Never keep a plan for suicide a secret.  Tell a family member or someone they trust immediately, even if you are breaking a confidence.  Their life is the priority.  
  1. Next steps: Don’t leave the person alone and check that they are safe. For example, check if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs or taken an overdose. Offer assistance to make appointments or to tell their loved one how they are feeling. A suicidal person needs to see a doctor or health professional promptly.  Ensure they avail of one (or more) of these services immediately:
  • Tell someone they live with that your friend is suicidal – like a parent or spouse. If they live on their own, stay with them until they speak with a professional. 
  • Remove any items that they may intend to use to end their life– but make sure you ask if you can take them while you both make a plan to get help.
  • Call a helpline now. They will offer your friend guidance and help them to identify a keep-safe plan.
  • Call 999 or 112 in the event of an emergency or visit your Accident & Emergency Department.
  • Book an urgent appointment with their GP.
  • Ensure that they are in control of their Keepsafe plan and remember that they told you because they need your help and they want to get help.

 

6. Follow up: Now that your friend has told you that they have been thinking about suicide, it is important to remember that you are one of their needed support links. This doesn’t mean it is your responsibility to spend every day with them, it just means keeping in touch, so they know that you are still there. Try scheduling in a face-to-face coffee once a week or fortnight and drop a regular text to touch base.  

 

7. Don’t ignore the situation: Taking this information and not doing anything with it is probably the worst thing you can do. Your friend trusted in you with their life, and now it’s your responsibility to pass on this information to the appropriate mental health professionals.